Statement by plaintiffs in three civil rights lawsuits against the MTA about subway access plans in the 2020-2024 capital program

The MTA on Thursday identified 45 subway stations* it said it would make accessible to people with disabilities in the 2020-2024 capital program, with a promise of nearly two dozen more to come. That’s real progress. 

Unfortunately, the MTA has a decades-long record of missed deadlines, funding diversions and deficient maintenance when it comes to accessibility. We can’t let that happen again. The only guarantee that counts is a legally binding settlement of our civil rights lawsuits over subway accessibility. It’s time for the MTA and Gov. Cuomo, who controls the MTA, to make that happen so that all New Yorkers can be certain that subway elevators and ramps are truly coming their way. 

Our groups sued the MTA more than two years ago over the lack of access across the subway system, then sued again this year over the MTA’s long-standing violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by renovating stations without making them accessible. The MTA has refused to settle those two cases and a third, over the horrendous maintenance of subway elevators. If the MTA is serious about its commitment to accessibility, it needs to go beyond a press release or promises in a capital plan. 

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*The MTA also identified three Staten Island Railway stations that it would make accessible. Fewer than 25% of subway stations are accessible now and only a third would be accessible after completion of the 2020-2024 plan, as proposed. 

For more information, contact (all listed are organizational or individual plaintiffs): 

Joe Rappaport, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, 646-284-1078 or jrappaport@bcid.org

Jess Powers, Center for Independence of the Disabled, 917-721-7699 or jpowers@cidny.org 

Brett Eisenberg, Bronx Independent Living Services, 718-515-2800 or brett@bils.org

Christina Curry, Harlem Independent Living Center, 917-828-5500 (text only) or curry.hilc@gmail.com 

Jean Ryan, Disabled In Action, 917-658-0760 or pansies007@gmail.com

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, sasha.blairgoldensohn@gmail.com

MTA is Not Above NYC Human Rights Law and Judge Rules They Can’t Discriminate Against People with Disabilities Who Use the Subway

New York, New York (June 5, 2019) – Today, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the Supreme Court of New York, New York County, denied the request of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) and the City of New York (“the City”) to dismiss a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the disability community. The lawsuit alleged that the MTA and the City violate the New York City Human Rights Law by discriminating against people with disabilities because less than 25% of the New York City Subway’s 472 stations provide any access for people whose disabilities make use of the stairs difficult, dangerous or impossible. Today’s ruling allows the lawsuit to go forward.

“There has never been a decision from any court that has preempted the New York City Human Rights Law in the area of discrimination,” Judge Hagler said from the bench.  “There can never be a situation where the state would license any agency to discriminate against any individual.”

Michele Caiola, Disability Rights Advocate’s Managing Director of Litigation says: “The MTA should take heed, business as usual will no longer be tolerated. Accessibility must be a top priority.”

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, says: “We are thrilled with the ruling today and we’re ready for the next stage. We anticipate bumps in the road, but we see a future where subways are accessible for all. Lack of accessible transportation is more than a burden, it’s a barrier to employment for people with disabilities and a violation of human rights.”

“Hallelujah,’” says Joe Rappaport, Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “The MTA now has a choice: keep spending the public’s money fighting this suit or make a long overdue commitment to make the subway’s accessible to all.”

“BILS strongly believes in full accessibility of the subway system, and this is another step in the right direction,” says Brett Eisenberg, Executive Director of Bronx Independent Living Services.  “We will not stop until there is 100% accessibility.”

Contacts

Michele Caiola, mcaiola@dralegal.org, (212) 644-8644

Jess Powers, jpowers@cidny.org, (917) 721-7699

Joe Rappaport, jrappaport@bcid.org, (646) 284-1078

Brett Eisenberg, brett@bils.org, (718) 515-2800

People with Disabilities File Class Action Suit Challenging MTA’S Widespread Discriminatory Renovation Practices

      Brooklyn Center for Independence LogoCIDNY logo

For Immediate Release:

May 15, 2019

 

 

Media Contacts:

Maia Goodell: (212) 644-8644, mgoodell@dralegal.org

Jess Powers: (646) 442-4154, jpowers@cidny.org

Joseph Rappaport: (718) 998-3000, jrappaport@bcid.org

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES FILE CLASS ACTION SUIT CHALLENGING MTA’S WIDESPREAD DISCRIMINATORY RENOVATION PRACTICES

New York, NY—May 15, 2019— A civil rights class action lawsuit was filed today in New York against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), challenging its prevalent, discriminatory practice of renovating New York City subway stations without installing elevators or other stair-free routes in blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This ongoing illegal conduct harms hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, and also those who have heart or lung conditions, arthritis, or other disabilities that make it difficult, dangerous, or impossible to use stairs. Please see the complaint for more information.

The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and a broad coalition of disability groups, including Bronx Independent Living Services; Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled; Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York; Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York; and Harlem Independent Living Center. The law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP is co-counsel with DRA.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by DRA against the MTA in 2016. That case, in which the U.S. government intervened, challenges the MTA’s failure to install an elevator as part of its seven-month closure and renovation of the Middletown Road station in the Bronx. In March 2019, Federal Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that those renovations triggered accessibility obligations under the ADA regardless of how much those improvements cost.  The ruling cast a spotlight on the MTA’s practice of ignoring accessibility during subway station renovations. This lawsuit focuses on the same principle, but as applied by the MTA system-wide.

“The MTA’s actions clearly demonstrate that they value amenities like Wi-Fi over serving passengers with disabilities,” said Michelle Caiola, DRA’s Managing Director of Litigation, said, “MTA has a longstanding pattern of ignoring their ADA obligations when altering stations, harming not only those with disabilities, but all New Yorkers who benefit from elevator access, including parents with strollers and senior citizens. Its disregard and negligence should no longer be tolerated.”

The New York City subway is the fastest, most convenient way to travel throughout the City. The speed, frequency, convenience, and relatively low cost of a subway ride are unmatched by any of New York City’s alternate modes of transportation, including buses, cabs, and the Access-A-Ride paratransit service. Some of these alternate modes of transportation are also inaccessible to customers with mobility disabilities, highlighting the critical importance of the subway.  

Yet, individuals with disabilities are completely excluded from more than 75% of stations that do not offer a stair-free path of travel, making traveling around the City more burdensome and, in some cases, impossible. Half of all neighborhoods served by the subway do not have a single accessible station, and subway accessibility is even more dismal in outer boroughs where a disproportionate number of people with disabilities live.

This dire situation continues because for the past several decades—in contradiction to the ADA’s requirement that accessibility be included along with station renovations—the MTA has completed numerous major renovation projects to improve station usability for nondisabled riders. The authority has spent millions of dollars and closing stations for months, while repeatedly failing to install the elevators necessary for customers with disabilities to access these renovated stations. The MTA has ignored the needs of its customers with disabilities for years.

“The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” according to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “When they’re already doing the work and spending money to fix a station, they need to remember to finish the job and install elevators.”

“For decades, the MTA has renovated stations at a cost of billions, blatantly evading the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “It’s long past time access is first among the MTA’s priorities, not an afterthought or not thought of at all.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the MTA to install elevators or other means of stair-access in all renovated stations, as well as a declaration that Defendants’ practice of ignoring accessibility during renovations is unlawful. Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at www.dralegal.org.

About Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID)

For more than 60 years, the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled’s mission has been to empower persons with disabilities. BCID provides services for the community, helping people advocate for themselves, and leads advocacy for better transportation, housing and in other campaigns for full access and integration into the life of Brooklyn and New York City. Visit www.bcid.org for more information.

About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY)
The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2018, CIDNY reached more than 100,000 New Yorkers. For more information, visit www.cidny.org.

About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP

Sheppard Mullin is a full service Global 100 firm with over 800 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions.  In the U.S., the firm’s clients include more than half of the Fortune 100.  For more information, please visit https://www.sheppardmullin.com.

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In Memoriam

We are deeply saddened to announce that Paula Wolff, who was a board member and staff member at CIDNY for nearly three decades, as well as a longtime disability rights advocate, passed away last night.

Paula joined with other disability rights activists in the 1970s in acts of civil disobedience in order to make NYC buses accessible. Through these efforts, all NYC buses now have lifts which enable wheelchair users to use the same method of transportation as people without disabilities. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without their activism.

She was involved in efforts to make other transportation accessible, to make police stations accessible, and more. She fought for fair and effective laws and policies and was an excellent educator of city and state officials.

Paula had a Masters Degree in Social Work. She was a fierce advocate on behalf of the people she worked with, coming up with solutions and working intensively with people to help eliminate the barriers they faced to independence. She helped people wade through the systems that complicate their housing, health, education, employment, transportation, and more.

She mentored many of our benefits counselors along the way. Her encyclopedic knowledge of disability-related benefits and resources was legendary in our community. She will be greatly missed by the people she helped and by those of us who worked with her.

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of CIDNY, recalls: “Paula had an extraordinary skill that all advocates need to learn. That is, how to see the possibility of change in individual experiences. She understood when people were being blocked by law, regulation, or policy. She activated people as advocates and helped them understand how to be part of making a change. She was an essential advisor in our advocacy meetings and with lawmakers.”

She was an enthusiastic dancer who enjoyed the outdoor music and dancing at Lincoln Center. She was a creative playwright. She loved spending time with friends.

Paula lent a hand whenever she could, to Disabled in Action, ADAPT, Helping Hands, and Not Dead Yet. She leaves a legacy of achievement as a leader in these groups.

Image of a lit candle.

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