Legally Blind Woman Can Pursue Restaurant Mistreatment Suit

By | February 11, 2008

When a legally blind woman went to eat at N.Y. fast-food restaurants, workers greeted her with mockery and mistreatment, she said in a lawsuit.

Employees grew irritated when she asked them to read menus to her, and workers in one establishment even directed her to a men’s restroom and then laughed at her embarrassment, she claims.

A federal appeals court reinstated Alice Camarillo’s lawsuit Friday, dismissing a lower court judge’s ruling that she suffered no harm because she was always allowed to eat at the restaurants.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Camarillo sufficiently claimed that the restaurants failed to ensure “effective communication” of their menus.
Camarillo sued four restaurants under the 1990 American with Disabilities Act, claiming she was discriminated against because the eateries near her home in upstate Catskill do not have large-print menus that she can read.

She claimed in her lawsuit that when she asked workers to read her the menu items, they sometimes made fun of her, or stared at her and forced her to wait until customers behind her were served.

Camarillo made the claims against Burger King restaurants in Catskill and Hudson, N.Y., operated by Carrols Corp.; McDonald’s restaurants in Catskill and Cairo, N.Y., operated by Magliocca Stores Inc.; a McDonald’s restaurant in Hudson, operated by Reeher Majik Inc.; a Taco Bell restaurant in Kingston, N.Y., operated by El Rancho Foods Inc., and a Wendy’s restaurant in Hudson, operated by Wendonie LLC.

Greg A. Riolo, a lawyer representing Magliocca Stores and Reeher Majik, operators of the McDonald’s restaurants, said he had not yet read the appellate opinion and could not comment.

Joseph Guarino, a lawyer for El Rancho Foods Inc., operator of the Taco Bell, declined comment.

Lawyers for the other companies did not immediately return telephone messages Friday seeking comment.

On some of Camarillo’s visits to the Burger King restaurants, employees “laughed and stared at her,” she said in her lawsuit. Once, when she asked to be directed to the women’s restroom, employees “directed her to the men’s room and laughed at her humiliation,” the lawsuit said.

She said in her lawsuit that restaurant employees were always willing to read her the menus and that she was permitted to eat on every occasion. But she also said employees, when told of her disability, often responded with annoyance or impatience, reading only part of the menu.

The appeals court said restaurants are not necessarily required to have large-print menus on hand, but they must ensure that menu options are effectively communicated to legally blind people.

The appeals panel said it did not disagree with the lower court’s finding that federal anti-discrimination rules cannot ensure workers will never be rude or insensitive to people with disabilities.

“However, Camarillo alleges more than mere rudeness or insensitivity, and more than one or two isolated mistakes,” the panel wrote. “Rather, a reasonable inference to be drawn from her complaint is that defendants failed to adopt policies or procedures to effectively train their employees how to deal with disabled individuals.”

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