February 2015 E-Newsletter

Celebrating 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: 1990-2015



DRA Celebrates 25 Years with the ADA: 1990-2015

DRA Attorney Spotlight

DRA Impact Report: Learn About Our Most Recent Updates!

DRA’s Growing Team

DRA Celebrates 25 Years with the ADA: 1990-2015

Dear DRA Family,

2015 is here, marking 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA gives civil rights protections to people with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, age, and religion.

With the ADA in our arsenal, DRA has, in our 22-year history, provided equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, government services, education, and more. We could not have made this important progress without you, our supporters. Thank you.

DRA will celebrate this important milestone throughout the year by continuing to pursue high-impact cases that protect the fundamental rights of people with disabilities. DRA’s key areas of focus for 2015 include access to employment, technology, transportation, health care, emergency preparedness, and juvenile justice.

DRA will invite you to join us this year as we celebrate 25 years with the ADA, the exceptional progress made since 1990, and the work yet to be done to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities nationwide. Keep your eyes out for an invitation to a regional celebration near you and for the return of DRA’s beloved Eagle and Turkey Awards event in November.

Wishing you all the very best in this monumental year.


Larry Paradis
Executive Director & Co-Director of Litigation

DRA Attorney Spotlight

1. What drew you to working at DRA?

I transitioned to DRA from private practice. I wanted to use my litigation experience to advocate on behalf of underserved communities. Disability rights is a relatively new area of civil rights law, so many of the cases are cases of first impression. High impact civil rights cases have the broadest impact in changing systemic policies and procedures that discriminate against people with disabilities. DRA particularly interested me because it specializes in cutting-edge impact litigation that establishes new legal precedents. It is exciting to be able to tackle novel legal issues and create legal frameworks under the ADA.

2. Describe your most memorable moment while working at DRA.

My most memorable moment at DRA was working on the Gray v. Golden Gate National Recreational Area federal parks case. I visited many of the park sites with our clients and was awed by the natural beauty of the region. I also saw firsthand the difficulties our clients faced accessing these park areas. People without disabilities take for granted activities like hiking, going to the beach, and visiting historic sites. The settlement we achieved with GGNRA will help ensure that people with disabilities can do the same in the GGNRA and beyond.

3. Think about the 25th Anniversary of the ADA in 2015; what DRA case do you think best exemplifies the progress made since 1990?

I think the BCID case best exemplifies the progress made since 1990. Emergency preparedness is literally a life and death issue when disasters strike and the needs of people with disabilities have largely been neglected in this area. Since establishing the legal framework in this area, we have used our emergency planning expertise to assist counties and cities nationwide fulfill their emergency planning obligations.

4. When you work out of DRA’s New York office what is your favorite thing to do in the City?

Eat pizza! I grew up in New York and since moving to California eight years ago, I have not had a good slice.

DRA Senior Staff Attorney, Christine Chuang

DRA Impact Report

Employment Access

In November 2014, DRA joined the Law Offices of Meenan & Associates in challenging a New York City department-wide policy that discriminates against NYPD officers who use hearing aids, regardless of how well they do their jobs. The Plaintiffs, former Sergeant James Phillips and former Deputy Inspector Daniel Caroine, both suffered hearing loss in the line of duty and have exemplary records in their service to the citizens of New York City, both before and after their injuries, including while using hearing aids. However the Department has chosen to end their careers as police officers based on a discriminatory, blanket policy that prohibits employment of any officers who use hearing aids. This case is scheduled to go to trial in early March. Stay tuned for news about a DRA press conference on the first day of trial.

Click here to learn more about this case.

Access to Transportation

In December 2014, DRA and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that Metro-North has violated Federal disability civil rights laws by spending millions of taxpayer dollars renovating the Port Chester Station without making the station accessible to wheelchair users. The parties are currently in settlement negotiations and making progress towards an accessibility solution.

Click here to read more about this case.

In September 2014, DRA filed suit against Uber Technologies, Inc. to challenge discrimination against blind individuals who use guide dogs. Drivers whom Uber dispatches to transport blind customers have, on many occasions, refused to transport blind customers with service animals. In December 2014, Uber moved to dismiss DRA’s case, arguing that Uber is not subject to most provisions of the ADA. At a public hearing on Tuesday, March 3rd, DRA and our co-counsel will argue that the ADA clearly covers Uber and its services. DRA invites members of the blind community and others who support equal access to transportation to attend the hearing.

For more information and to RSVP your attendance, please contact Rachel Smith atrsmith@dralegal.org or by phone at (510)665-8644.

Click here to learn more about this case.

Emergency Preparedness

On the heels of DRA’s historic agreement with New York City to provide comprehensive improvements to New York City’s disaster planning, DRA filed a federal class action lawsuit against the District of Columbia. The lawsuit challenges the poor emergency planning for persons with disabilities in our nation’s capital. DRA’s co-counsel, Matthew Handley of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, said, “Like New York, Washington, DC has developed emergency plans that serve the general population during emergencies like hurricanes and terrorist attacks. However, also like New York and Los Angeles, the District fails to plan for the predictable needs of persons with disabilities. This is unconscionable.” DRA’s successes in litigating such cases and prior negotiations provide us with significant experience and expertise in this area. DRA is currently in structured negotiations with the District to try to resolve the matter without litigation.

Click here to learn more about this case.

DRA’s Growing Team

DRA is thrilled to introduce you to our newest senior staff attorneys starting this month:  Aaron and Michelle.


Michelle Caiola
Senior Staff Attorney


Michelle will work out of DRA’s New York office starting on February 17th.  Prior to joining DRA, Michelle served as the Legal Director at the San Francisco based Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) and the Litigation Director at Legal Momentum in New York City, formerly the NOW Legal Defense Fund.  In both positions, she managed an active employment discrimination docket and engaged in advocacy and policy work related to sex discrimination.  One particular area of her focus was expanding the intersection of disability and pregnancy discrimination laws to protect women working in low-wage and non-traditional jobs.

Before entering the arena of non-profit organizations, Ms. Caiola acquired extensive federal class litigation experience as a Senior Trial Attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for over 10 years, working in the field offices in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York.  In the Chicago office, Ms. Caiola worked on a ground-breaking pattern or practice sexual harassment case, EEOC v. Mitsubishi.  She was also the lead attorney on EEOC v. Morgan Stanley, a class case alleging sex discrimination in pay and promotion that eventually settled for $54 million dollars. Prior to her departure from EEOC, she was litigating a cutting edge pattern or practice case of pregnancy and caregiver discrimination against Bloomberg, L.P.  She was awarded the Chair’s Organizational Award, EEOC’s highest honor, on three occasions.

Ms. Caiola began her legal career at a plaintiff’s side employment firm and also volunteered on behalf of battered women seeking protective orders. Ms. Caiola earned her J.D., with distinction, from the University of Iowa College of Law and graduated cum laude from Kent State University.

Ms. Caiola looks forward to bringing her significant experience in class action discrimination suits to DRA.  Citing the unique and relatively unchartered waters of disability law, she is motivated to develop high-impact cases capable of affording greater access, opportunity and fairness to the lives of persons with disabilities.

Aaron Zisser
Senior Staff Attorney

Prior to joining DRA, Aaron served for more than five years as a trial attorney in the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.  Aaron’s work at DOJ, in the Special Litigation and Educational Opportunities Sections, focused largely on the rights of individuals with disabilities in corrections and education and pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in L.C. v. Olmstead.  Aaron coordinated statewide investigations in each of these areas, addressing solitary confinement, alternative education programs, and unnecessary institutionalization.

Aaron has been inspired by the many hundreds of individuals and families he has met in his work and is excited to bring his focus on collaboration and outreach and his experience around the country back to his home state and to the vibrant Bay Area and national disability rights advocacy community.

Prior to his work with DOJ, Aaron served as a law clerk to a federal district judge in Memphis, a fellow/lobbyist on international human rights issues at Human Rights First in Washington, DC, and a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.  During his time in Washington, he co-taught — with his twin brother, an attorney at Public Advocates in San Francisco — a law school course on multi-disciplinary public interest advocacy strategy.

Aaron earned his BA, with distinction, in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley.  He graduated cum laude from Georgetown law school in 2006.