United Artist Movie Chain settles With Disabled
A landmark settlement for the American with Disabilities Act was reached
April 16 in two discrimination suits Wheelchair Access (Arnold vs. UA)
and Assistive Listening Devices (Peck vs. UA) against United Artists theaters
that will give disabled people unimpeded access to its movie theaters
across the nation.
The settlement between one of the nation's largest theater chains and
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) a national disability
rights group based in Berkeley resulted in improved wheelchair access
and facilities for the hearing -impaired at its more than 400 theaters
nationwide over the next six years.
The agreement was reached after the Department of Justice, which had
initiated its own investigation into alleged bias in the United Artists
theaters, joined the settlement talks. The details of the agreement were
filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco April 16, and are expected
to receive final approval in June.
In the Arnold vs. United Artists, United Artists agreed to remove walls
separating wheelchair sections and give customers who use wheelchairs
access to seats where they can sit with friends and relatives, rather
than be segregated in the back row. In theaters with more than 300 seats,
the chain must provide at least two accessible spaces in the middle sections
of the theater. The theater also agreed to provide more seats with removable
arms so people can transfer from wheelchairs. The agreement also provides
improved parking, entryways, rest rooms, concessions stands, ticket booths,
telephones and drinking fountains.
United Artists will pay the 12 plaintiffs a total of $71,000 and divide
$429,000 between those who file claims showing that they were hampered
by physical barriers in California theaters. The claims must be filed
within 90 days of the date the final settlement is approved by a federal
court judge. The settlement will ensure that people with disabilities
can enter theaters and sit with their families and friends.
In Peck vs. United Artists, the plaintiffs contended that the chain's
California theaters did not provide enough listening devices for hearing
-impaired movie-goers. The chain already provides listening devices in
its theaters as a result of the lawsuit, but has agreed to pay $75,000
to organizations in California that help the hearing impaired. Kathy Peck,
executive director of H.E.A.R. and lead plaintiff of the Peck vs. United
Artists lawsuit was pleased to learn of the settlement and added that
the American with Disabilities Act is alive and well and living in California.
In an interview with Peter Fimrite of the Chronicle East Bay Bureau,
Douglas Wolkin, the vice president of legal affairs for United Artists
said, "United Artists is proud to be an industry leader in removing
"This settlement...helps to create reasonable expectations in our
patrons and demonstrates that when we all listen to one another good things
Brad Seligman, the lawyer for the disability rights fund, said that in
the long run United Artists will benefit from the agreement because more
people will have access to its theaters. We hope that this stands as a
beacon for all other theaters chains in the United States.