As many of our members know, the California Unruh Act prohibits arbitrary discrimination in business establishments on the basis of various personal characteristics such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. However, the act is sometimes abused when businesses or individuals use it as a basis for frivolous lawsuits or make false claims of discrimination without sufficient evidence and in an attempt to obtain settlement payouts, rather than to solve a genuine issue. This can create a burden on the court system and potentially harm the reputation and operational capabilities of innocent businesses. In order to prevent abuse of the Unruh Act, CHLA partnered with a lawyer specializing in defending against these claims and established a member-exclusive ADA Protection Program which provides flat-rate legal defenses to abusive litigants.
Now, CHLA is unveiling a new piece of legislation designed to mitigate abuse of the California Unruh Act and is working with a State Legislator to make meaningful change and prevent abuse of CA accessibility law.
Under this bill, statutory damages would be reduced, disrupting the current monetary incentives to abuse the Unruh Act and making it far less profitable for bad actors to profit from their actions. Further, this act prevents bad actors from claiming injury multiple times for the same alleged violations and clarifies that, if there is a genuine issue, they are entitled to recover once—not as many times as they drove past the parking lot. Even more, this bill would disrupt the current assembly line structure of abusive plaintiff’s firms by forcing them to give the appropriate amount of time and effort to each case that legitimate clients deserve.
To be clear, CHLA and the hospitality community strongly support the provision of accessible facilities—indeed, we’re people-people and moreover, they are our guests. However, the small group of bad actors who abuse the system are blatantly evading the intent of the law to extort millions of dollars annually in settlement agreements at the expense of small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color, and CHLA can stand by no longer.
To be clear, though well intended, this bill will face staunch opposition from groups interested in maintaining the status quo—despite the reputational damage accessibility abuse causes to the disabled community and the real operational impacts felt by aspiring entrepreneurs across the state.
Over the coming year, we will need your voice more than ever to help make California better. If you have been affected by abusive accessibility litigation, we’re asking for your help. If you know someone who has been affected, we’re asking for your voice and their voice. If you have a story to tell, we want to hear it.
To contact the team and see how you can help, click here.