‘Hamilton’ Sued for Not Accommodating Blind Patrons

The Broadway hit and multi-Tony winner Hamilton is now the subject of a class action lawsuit involving alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Mark Lasser has sued producers of the show, claiming Hamilton is denying blind and visually impaired fans equal access to performances across the U.S. because the show doesn’t offer audio description technology. The service provides patrons with a small receiver that connects to headphones and plays audio narration that describes visual elements of the scenes.

“Many individuals who are blind or visually-impaired enjoy watching musicals in theatres and engaging in this classic part of American cultural life,” writes attorney C.K. Lee in the complaint. “Audio description technology is essential to the live musical experience for blind individuals, so that they will know what is happening in scenes without dialogue or scenes that include significant visual elements.”

Lasser says he contacted the box office at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York to inquire about services for the blind and visually impaired and was told none were available. He also claims he tried to resolve the issue without a lawsuit but producers were not responsive.

Nederlander Organization, which owns the theater Lasser contacted; the show’s producer, Hamilton Uptown LLC; and its manager, Baseline Theatrical LLC, are named as defendants in the lawsuit. None of the companies have responded to a request for comment in response to the suit.

Lasser is asking the court to order defendants to provide audio description equipment and live narration services once each week with 25 audio sets available for the show.


Court Orders Company to Make Website Accessible to the Blind

A California blind man has won a disabled-rights case against a Colorado-based luggage retailer accused of failing to make its commercial website accessible to the visually impaired.

Lawyers for the plaintiff said the ruling broke new ground in an expanding litigation area.

Edward Davis last year sued Colorado Bag’n Baggage in California court claiming he couldn’t shop online for the retailer’s products because its website lacked features, like screen-reading software, for aiding the disabled. The suit claimed violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and a California anti-discrimination law.

Before any trial, the judge this week ruled for the plaintiff. Mr. Davis “presented sufficient evidence that he was denied full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, privileges, and accommodations offered by Defendant because of his disability,” wrote Judge Bryan F. Foster of San Bernardino Superior Court.

He ordered the retailer to make changes to its website and to pay $4,000. Lawyers for Mr. Davis are also entitled to attorneys’ fees, which they expect to exceed $100,000.

The lead counsel for the plaintiff told Law Blog that the ruling marked the first time in such a lawsuit that a court has entered a judgment in favor of a plaintiff over a defendant’s objections. “It’s pretty groundbreaking,” said Scott Ferrell, founding partner of litigation boutique Newport Trial Group.

Law Blog has sought comment from an attorney representing the retailer.

Such disability-rights cases have grown more common in the last couple of years.

As WSJ has reported, litigation in the area picked up steam in 2014 when the Department of Justice laid out a set of compliance standards for accessibility on commercial websites as part of a legal agreement with H&R Block Inc. in a case originally brought by the National Federation of the Blind.

Another turning point came in 2008 in a case against retailer Target Corp. when a federal district judge ruled that ADA applies to websites when they act as a gateway to a brick-and-mortar store. That case resulted in a $6 million settlement.

Crystal N. Skelton, a California attorney who advises clients in complying with disability laws, says companies can expect these lawsuits to continue.

“If you aren’t sure whether the ADA applies to your site or whether it’s accessible to the blind, now may be the time to find out,” she and a firm colleague wrote in a blog post about the case.