MTA is Not Above NYC Human Rights Law and Judge Rules They Can’t Discriminate Against People with Disabilities Who Use the Subway

Concrete stairs inside a subway station, flanked by metal handrails and tiled walls. A sign above says "Exit, 72 Street & Central Park West, SW corner."
New York Subway Stairs by Derek Key, CC BY 2.0

 

New York, New York (June 5, 2019) – Today, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the Supreme Court of New York, New York County, denied the request of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) and the City of New York (“the City”) to dismiss a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the disability community. The lawsuit alleged that the MTA and the City violate the New York City Human Rights Law by discriminating against people with disabilities because less than 25% of the New York City Subway’s 472 stations provide any access for people whose disabilities make use of the stairs difficult, dangerous or impossible. Today’s ruling allows the lawsuit to go forward.

“There has never been a decision from any court that has preempted the New York City Human Rights Law in the area of discrimination,” Judge Hagler said from the bench.  “There can never be a situation where the state would license any agency to discriminate against any individual.”

Michele Caiola, Disability Rights Advocate’s Managing Director of Litigation says: “The MTA should take heed, business as usual will no longer be tolerated. Accessibility must be a top priority.”

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, says: “We are thrilled with the ruling today and we’re ready for the next stage. We anticipate bumps in the road, but we see a future where subways are accessible for all. Lack of accessible transportation is more than a burden, it’s a barrier to employment for people with disabilities and a violation of human rights.”

“Hallelujah,’” says Joe Rappaport, Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “The MTA now has a choice: keep spending the public’s money fighting this suit or make a long overdue commitment to make the subway’s accessible to all.”

“BILS strongly believes in full accessibility of the subway system, and this is another step in the right direction,” says Brett Eisenberg, Executive Director of Bronx Independent Living Services.  “We will not stop until there is 100% accessibility.”

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and a broad coalition of disability groups, including Bronx Independent Living Services; Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled; Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York; Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York; and Harlem Independent Living Center. Daniel Brown, partner at the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, is co-counsel with DRA.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at www.dralegal.org.

About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP
Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with over 800 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions.  In the U.S., the firm’s clients include more than half of the Fortune 100.  For more information, please visit https://www.sheppardmullin.com.

Contacts

Michele Caiola
mcaiola@dralegal.org(212) 644-8644

Jess Powers
jpowers@cidny.org(917) 721-7699

Joe Rappaport
jrappaport@bcid.org(646) 284-1078

Brett Eisenberg
brett@bils.org(718) 515-2800