A settlement was reached July 2 between Pomona College and a patron of Pomona’s Bridges Auditorium who alleged that the college denied her full and equal enjoyment of a public building and discriminated against her because she is disabled. Since the patron’s original complaint, Pomona has taken steps to increase wheelchair access in the auditorium.
Jennifer Seitel, who suffers from a physical disability that confines her to a wheelchair, sued the college Oct. 30, 2013, after visiting Bridges in March of that year to attend a dance competition in which her two daughters participated. She settled for an undisclosed monetary amount and assurance by the college that it would make changes to the auditorium to better accommodate patrons with disabilities.
Her main complaint was the inadequate width of the bathrooms in Bridges.
“The only one that was wheelchair accessible was the male [bathroom],” she said.
Sharon Kuhn, the building manager of Bridges, said that the Bridges staff took Seitel’s complaint seriously and took an “extra step, which was nothing that we had to do at the time, to accommodate future patrons.”
This “extra step” was the conversion of two regular stalls in the lower-level women’s restroom into a single, wheelchair-accessible stall. According to the Office of Facilities and Campus Services, the college spent $4,907 on labor and material for this renovation.
The college also invited an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance officer to come and inspect Bridges in January 2014. According to Christopher Waugh, an associate dean of students and the director of the Smith Campus Center, which oversees Bridges Auditorium, the officer said that the renovated bathroom did not meet ADA standards.
The office “informed us about what we needed to do to get restroom areas in question up to current ADA standards,” Waugh said. “We shared with him our current process for accommodating patrons with accessibility needs, and he was satisfied with our current protocols and procedures.”
Waugh said that necessary changes include raising one of the sinks to ensure that someone in a wheelchair can use it comfortably. The further modifications specified by the ADA compliance officer must be completed within a calendar year of the settlement.
“I foresee no problems in completing the work in the timeframe of the agreement,” Waugh said.
According to the complaint, Seitel was also harassed by security personnel who denied her access to dressing rooms, non-handicapped seating and ADA-compliant restrooms. The complaint asserts that Seitel “incurred humiliation, emotional distress and embarrassment” as a result.
Seitel and her lawyer, Eugene Feldman, filed a complaint Oct. 30 to the Los Angeles Superior Court against the college as well as Event GUARD Services, a private company hired by Pomona to provide security for the event.
Event GUARD services filed a cross-complaint Jan. 3 against co-defendant Pomona College. The cross-complaint asserts that liability for Seitel’s damages lies with the college, not the company. The court case regarding the cross-complaint is still pending, according to court filings.
Ana Vigo, who is in charge of Marketing/Business Development for Event GUARD Services, said that the company filed a cross-complaint only for economic reasons.
“Event GUARD Services has been a partner of Bridges Auditorium and Pomona College for over 10 years and looks forward to continuing its relationship,” Vigo said.
Vigo also said that her company “stands by its employees and their actions in this matter.”
“We feel our staff went out of their way to accommodate Ms. Seitel and did not violate any of her rights,” Vigo said.
Seitel said that she “complained several times” to the staff at the auditorium about the lack of access and accommodations.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair for over 20 years, and the way people treated me because of the dance festival was just completely inappropriate,” Seitel said.
Kuhn said that the staff had 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.
Pomona’s attorneys, the law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer, could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. Feldman also could not be reached for comment.
Seitel is the director of the Murrieta, Calif., chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, an organization that teaches young people how to reduce their risk of injury. Seitel has been with the organization for 16 years, and, as its main speaker, she visits schools to share her story with students in an effort to be “motivational and educational about preventing disabilities.”
She declined to comment on the specific amount of money that she received from the settlement.