A former patron of Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College sued the college on Oct. 30, 2013 for denying her full and equal enjoyment of a public building and discriminating against her because she is disabled. The patron, Jennifer Seitel, who suffers from a physical disability that limits her mobility and confines her to a wheelchair, is the director of the Murrieta, Calif., chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, which is an organization that teaches young people how to reduce their risk of injury, according to the organization’s website.
Seitel visited Bridges Auditorium on March 3, 8, and 10 in 2013 to attend the Kids Artistic Revue/Rainbow Dance Competition in which her two daughters participated. Seitel and her lawyer, Eugene Feldman, filed a complaint Oct. 30 to the Los Angeles Superior Court against three parties: Pomona College; Event Guard Services, Inc., a private company that provided security for the Rainbow Dance Competitions; and DOES 1-50. “DOES 1-50” refers to potential defendants with as-yet-unknown identities, according to Claremont McKenna College associate professor of government and former corporate litigator Ken Miller.
According to the complaint, Seitel was harassed by security personnel who denied her access to dressing rooms, non-handicapped seating, and restrooms compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint asserts that Seitel “incurred humiliation, emotional distress and embarrassment” as a result.
Feldman specializes in ADA claims and helping “people with disabilities who have been the victims of discrimination in the workplace or in public areas,” according to his website.
Sharon Kuhn, building manager of Bridges Auditorium, said that she was surprised when she first heard about the lawsuit. Although Kuhn was not present at the time, she said that when Seitel first visited Bridges, staff members walked through all the services that the auditorium offers with Seitel in order to accommodate her disability.
Bridges Auditorium carries ramps at the front and back of the building, an elevator that goes up to the second floor and down to the basement floor where there is a handicapped bathroom, and handicapped seating on the main floor of the auditorium.
Additionally, Kuhn said that the staff provided Seitel and her two daughters with a private room and an attached restroom with three stalls and two sinks. The staff also offered her seating on the balcony level, the door to which is located right next to the private room, and offered to help Seitel into a seat closer up to the stage on the main floor. Kuhn said that Seitel refused both seating areas.
According to Kuhn, Bridges is prepared to accommodate all areas of disabilities at all times.
“When a patron calls, we take the time to be very specific as to what their need is,” Kuhn said. “I think our crew really does a great job with that … We have patrons come in who at the last minute either broke a leg or ended up in a wheelchair for some reason, and we’ve been able to accommodate them with seating and with getting in and out of the building.”
Pomona and its attorneys at the law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer have not officially filed a response to the lawsuit, according to the LA Superior Court website.
Pomona’s co-defendant Event Guard Services, Inc. and its attorneys at Bradley & Gmelich filed an answer to Seitel’s complaint and a cross-complaint against Pomona on Jan. 6, 2014, which, according to Miller, is not an unusual action for a defendant to take against a co-defendant. The cross-complaint asserts that liability for Seitel’s damages lies with Pomona College and DOES 1-50, not Event Guard Services, Inc.
Chris Waugh, associate dean of students and director of the Smith Campus Center, which oversees Bridges, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
According to ADA, which was passed in 1990, only new construction must comply with ADA standards. Thus, Bridges is not mandated to comply with ADA standards because the building was built in 1931. Waugh said that Bridges went through major renovations in the 1970s, including new disabilities accommodations such as wheelchair access to the building and restrooms.
Bob Robinson, assistant vice president of the Office of Facilities and Campus Services, said that although there are some physical restrictions in Bridges due to its old age that cannot be addressed until another large-scale renovation, the Bridges staff is able to meet the individual needs of patrons.
“There is a percentage of renovations that you do that requires you to bring a building up to standards,” Robinson said. “Pomona College, when it does a building renovation, it addresses those needs, plain and simple. For us it’s a more moral and ethical issue, so we try to do that whenever possible.”
Nevertheless, Pomona invited an ADA compliance officer in January to carry out a walkthrough of Bridges to check how well Bridges met the ADA standards.
“We want to be proactive,” Waugh said. “We put together the ADA walkthrough because we don’t want to wait for a major renovation to get up to speed. We want to see if there are some changes that we can make now.”
Seitel seeks both a monetary and a non-monetary compensation through her complaint. She asks the court to issue injunctions in order to prevent such discriminatory actions from happening again at Bridges. She also wishes to be compensated for the costs of the lawsuit, including reasonable attorney fees, and asks for compensation of an unspecified amount “for monetary damages as provided by law” and the California Civil Code.