ADA Plaintiff’s Fernando Gastelum and Theresa Brooke Sue Hotels Over Online Reservation Policies

Employment Law Times
Employment & Labor Law
By Lindsay Leavitt

The Arizona hospitality industry needs to brace itself for another tidal wave of ADA litigation. ADA plaintiffs Fernando Gastelum and Theresa Brooke have recently filed nearly a dozen lawsuits alleging that the hotels’ online reservations policies violate the ADA. Mr. Gastelum and Ms. Brooke are represented by Peter Strojnik and Peter K. Strojnik, a father and son duo who have filed more than 2300 ADA lawsuits in the last 24 months.

In their lawsuits, Mr. Gastelum and Ms. Brooke allege that they were unable to reserve wheelchair accessible rooms using the hotels’ online reservation platform. They allege that this is a violation of a regulation published by the Department of Justice.

28 CFR § 36.302(e)(1) provides that public accommodations that operate a place of public lodging must modify their policies to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms. This regulation went into effect on March 15, 2012.

There is very little case law interpreting § 36.302(e), but Mr. Gastelum and Ms. Brooke allege that the regulation is unambiguous—if a hotel allows online room reservations, it must also allow persons with disabilities to reserve accessible rooms online. The same goes for reservations made over the phone, in person, etc.

While most ADA accessibility cases against brick-and-mortar locations require the plaintiff to personally visit the premises, these lawsuits are different.  The alleged violations occurred online, thus, Mr. Gastelum and Ms. Brooke will argue they don’t even have to leave their homes to gain standing to sue.

There are a number of legal defenses still available for hotels sued under § 36.302(e)(1), and we recommend that a hotel facing (or hoping to avoid) a lawsuit brought by Mr. Gastelum or Ms. Brooke consult with an experienced ADA defense attorney.