Americans with Disabilities Act Lawsuits Up 28 Percent in FY 2016
The latest available data from the federal courts show that fiscal year 2016 set a new record for litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. During the twelve months ending September 30, a total of 9,373 new suits were filed. This is up 28 percent over the previous year and more than double the number filed just five years ago. See Table 1.
While ADA suits involving discrimination in employment grew by 6.6 percent last year, ADA suits in non-employment areas jumped by 36.3 percent between FY 2015 and FY 2016. These suits involved alleged discrimination against people with disabilities in public accommodations, transportation, communications, and governmental activities.
Longer term trends in federal civil suits filed under the ADA since FY 2008 in employment versus non-employment areas are compared in Figure 1. (Supporting details are found in Appendix Table A.) All figures in this report comparing ADA and other civil rights filings are based on case-by-case court records which were compiled and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
One of the reasons behind this sharp rise is the phenomenon of what has been called "serial ADA suits" where a single individual brings separate suits against dozens of different businesses. A common ground for such actions often involves allegations over inadequate disabled parking or signage. For example, court records document that two active plaintiffs—Chris Langer and Martin Vogel—in the Central District of California (Los Angeles) have filed at least 811 federal ADA lawsuits in the last few years. Other serial ADA suit filers active in Florida are Howard Cohen with over 260 federal lawsuits and Lional Dalton, retired super bowl champion, with over 200 federal ADA suits according to court records.
Most ADA suits are filed by private individuals and associations seeking to enforce ADA requirements against not only employers but businesses as diverse local restaurants, theaters and entertainment centers; motels, hotels, and other accommodation facilities; taxi, transit and even Uber services; public and private school and universities; hospitals and government offices. Litigation isn't restricted to bricks and mortar establishments, since certain ADA requirements apply to on-line service providers. Government agencies may also bring suit to enforce ADA requirements, or intervene on the side of private parties seeking redress.
ADA Suits Versus Other Civil Rights Litigation
ADA litigation now accounts for one in every four (24.7%) civil rights suits handled by federal district courts. Five years ago they comprised just one out of every eight (12.3%) civil rights suits.
In contrast to ADA suits, most other types of civil rights litigation in the federal courts have grown only slightly, or even declined. For example, employment discrimination suits are down 27.9 percent over the past five years, and voting discrimination litigation has declined by 16.6 percent over this same period. When all civil rights suits are combined, including ADA, their overall rate of growth since FY 2011 was just 2.3 percent. See Table 2.
Top Ranked Judicial Districts
Two districts stand out for their large number of ADA suits in FY 2016: the Southern District of Florida (Miami) with 1,457 new suits filed, and the Central District of California (Los Angeles) with 1,388. These stand out because of the high volume of ADA lawsuits involving non-employment matters. In fact these two districts account for almost four out of every ten ADA lawsuits filed in the country last year. One of the reasons these two particular districts had so many suits was because of the presence of active serial ADA filers in these two districts.
Relative to their population, Florida South was also ranked top in the nation, with a rate almost seven times the national average. Four other districts also had rates that were at least twice the national average. These were the Southern District of New York with a rate 2.8 times the national average and the second highest ADA litigation rate, followed by Central California (Los Angeles) in third place. The federal district of Arizona was fourth, and the Southern District of California (San Diego) ranked in fifth place.
All in all fifteen (15) federal districts had above average ADA litigation rates last year. While many of these included large metropolitan areas, there were a number without big urban centers—including Nebraska and Utah—which also experienced higher than average ADA litigation rates during FY 2016.
While the volume of non-employment ADA suits dwarfed ADA employment litigation, where the latter suits were filed also showed quite different locational patterns. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) with slightly elevated ADA litigation rates stood out primarily because it had the largest number of ADA employment lawsuits in the country with a total of 140 such suits filed last year.
District rankings for all judicial districts, along with the number of ADA suits by type filed during FY 2016, are shown in Appendix Table B.
For media discussion of the serial ADA filer phenomenon, see: