by CHIP ROGERS, AAHOA President & CEO
For over 200 years, the American business world has been buoyed in large part by the widespread belief that professional success knows no race, color, sex, disability, religion or socioeconomic status. If you put in the work – no matter who you are – you will reap the benefits.
That meritocratic approach to business is what has defined AAHOA members for nearly 30 years. Self-reliant, resourceful and wholly independent, they ask for nothing but the opportunity to compete in a free and fair market. Their years of hard work and sacrifice have led to collective ownership of nearly half of all U.S. hotels and annual payroll of well over $10 billion.
That success should make them an inspiration. Instead, for one small but pernicious group, it has made them a target.
Around the country, hoteliers are under attack by exploitative plaintiffs and their similarly unscrupulous attorneys who see a flourishing small business as an opportunity for an easy payday. Even worse, they shamelessly abuse an important, well-meaning law – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – to extort cash from American small business owners.
In many cases, plaintiffs and attorneys partner and target multiple businesses, alleging either vague or overly technical infractions under the ADA Title III, which pertains to all places of public accommodations. They go from region to region, frequently copying and pasting their allegations from one suit into another, and demand out-of-court settlements from hoteliers. In many instances, these small business owners believe they are in full compliance with the law, but are forced to either settle or spend thousands of dollars to defend themselves in court.
These “drive-by” lawsuits target thousands of small businesses every year. At the close of 2016, the number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed nationwide stood at just over 6,600 – a 37-percent increase over the previous year and a staggering 59-percent rise over 2013. This lucrative model has created a cottage industry, and until legislation is enacted to curb predatory litigation, the numbers will undoubtedly continue to climb.
The ADA is a monumental civil rights law, and all hoteliers have a legal and ethical responsibility to uphold it. AAHOA members make continual efforts to ensure their properties are accessible to all business patrons, because it is both good for business and the right thing to do. However, as the law is currently written, small business owners are left vulnerable to predatory, grossly opportunistic and unethical practices by serial plaintiffs and attorneys. The ADA was intended to enhance accessibility to commercial and recreational facilities for persons with disabilities – not to destroy local businesses, line the pockets of corrupt attorneys, and drive a wedge between entrepreneurs and the communities they seek to serve.
ADA abuse is an extremely serious issue that no small business owner can afford to ignore. The good news, however, is that AAHOA has the resources and influence to confront this growing threat head on.
Our government affairs team, aided by lodging associations and other industry allies around the country, is fighting back. We strongly and vocally supported Rep. Ted Poe’s (R-TX) ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620) and are working with elected officials from Florida to California to introduce legislation that would help put a stop to abusive, self-serving behavior.
I ask that you lend your full support to AAHOA in combating this dangerous trend. Contact your state and federal representatives, get involved in local policymaking and – most importantly – educate yourself on ADA requirements to ensure your property is in full compliance.
Together we can help enact common-sense reforms that both preserve the spirit of the law and protect local businesses.