The ADA Throws a Curveball at America’s Favorite Pastime

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all public and private areas open to the general public. The ADA’s purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities as those without disabilities, and it is divided into five titles that relate to different areas of public life. The most significant amendment to the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), was signed into law in 2008 and became effective on January 1, 2009. Importantly, the ADAAA made a number of changes to the definition of “disability,” even re-defining private entities that are to be considered places of “public accommodation” that fall under Title III of the ADA.

Title III of the ADA is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice, and it prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities—including privately-owned, leased, or operated facilities. Title III further sets the minimum standards for accessibility, necessary “reasonable modifications” of facilities, and new construction of facilities.  

Recently, a number of lawsuits have put increasing pressure on Major League Baseball (“MLB”) organizations and their stadiums to adhere to the most-recently revised ADA guidelines—the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“2010 Standards”). These lawsuits allege that some MLB stadiums built prior to the enactment of the 2010 Standards fail to provide people with wheelchair-accessible seats sufficient sightlines over spectators, in violation of the ADA. The lawsuits further allege that nearly all wheelchair-accessible seats either have obstructed views or are much farther away from the playing field as other seats—giving fans without disabilities a more exciting, immersive, and enjoyable experience than those forced to sit in the current wheelchair-accessible seats. 

In order to comply with modern ADA requirements set by the 2010 Standards, older MLB stadiums and arenas across the United States that currently fail to adhere to these guidelines will be required to undergo significant (and expensive) renovations—many of which very well may hinder operations in MLB organizations. The 2010 Standards will certainly be enforceable against stadiums built after 2010, but the ultimate question is whether stadiums that complied with the previous, more ambiguous regulations will now be forced to comply with the new, more stringent ADA guidelines. The question still remains pending the outcome of the various lawsuits, so until there is a decisive ruling, no one will know whether the MLB organizations will be forced to “play ball” with the various plaintiffs, or whether the plaintiffs will strike out.

Charles Wallace