Judge says Marriott Obligated to Offer Accessible Golf Carts

Bay City News Service

A federal judge in San Francisco ruled today that Marriott Inc. is obligated under federal and state laws to make accessible golf carts available to disabled golfers.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled in a lawsuit filed against the hotel and resort chain by three disabled golfers who said they need special carts known as single-rider carts in order to play the game.

The carts have hand-operated brakes and accelerators and rotating swivel seats that enable mobility-impaired people to hit a golf ball while seated.

Hamilton said the company’s refusal to provide the carts violates the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act as well as two state laws, the California Disabled Persons Act and Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The judge wrote, “Marriott’s current policy does not provide plaintiffs, mobility-impaired golfers, with an experience that is functionally equivalent to that of other non-disabled golfers.”

Sid Wolinsky, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the ruling will apply to the 26 golf courses owned or operated by Marriott nationwide.

Nance Becker, another lawyer for the golfers, said, “We hope today’s decision will make Marriott resorts more welcoming for their potential customers and encourage other golf resorts to do the same.”

While ruling that Marriott violated the laws, Hamilton delayed issuing an injunction against the company and instead instructed both sides to try to reach a settlement about changes to be made. She said she will hold another hearing on the case at a later date.

A representative of Washington D.C.-based Marriott was not immediately available for comment.

Marriott argued that it adequately accommodated disabled golfers by allowing them to bring their own single-rider carts or use a regular golf cart with a medical flag.

But the judge wrote that the three plaintiffs were unable to transport single-rider carts or use regular carts. She said they were therefore in a ‘distinctly unequal situation’ in comparison with able-bodied golfers, who are offered regular carts when they show up at a Marriott golf course.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2005 by Richard Thesing of San Mateo County, who was injured in a diving accident at age 18, and Lawrence Celano, who suffered spinal cord injuries during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

William Hefferon of Florida, who has limited use of his left side as a result of a stroke, joined the lawsuit in 2006.

Their lawyers said that about 400 golf courses nationwide currently provide the special carts.