US Attorney Reports Madison Square Garden Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit

LAWFUEL – US Legal Newswire – MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and RENA J. COMISAC, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division,
announced today that the United States has settled a civil
lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the
“ADA”) against the owners and operators of Madison Square Garden
(the “Garden”), the sports and entertainment arena. The lawsuit
was filed by the Government and simultaneously settled through a
Consent Decree, under the terms of which the Garden has agreed to
take steps to make its Arena accessible to individuals with
disabilities in compliance with the ADA.

The case was assigned
to United States District Judge RICHARD J. HOLWELL of Manhattan
federal court, and the Consent Decree, which is subject to the
Court’s approval, has been submitted to him for review.
According to the Complaint: The Garden was originally
opened in 1968 as a state-of-the-art, multi-use sports and
entertainment facility. In 1991, the Garden underwent a major
renovation to the entire facility during which its main arena was
extensively modified. Since the passage of the ADA 17 years ago,
the Garden has made a number of alterations to its facilities
but, as the Government alleges in its Complaint, failed to comply
with federal law in doing so.

Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the Garden has
agreed to provide 50 wheelchair and companion seats in the Arena.
By November 4, 2007, the Garden will provide two wheelchair and
two companion seats on the Arena floor for basketball games. For
hockey games, concerts, and other events, these seats will be
provided no later than January 31, 2008. By October 1, 2008, the
Garden will provide 48 additional wheelchair and companion seats
in locations dispersed throughout the Garden. The Garden will
also install 20 accessible aisle seats in the Arena by January
31, 2008, and will install another 40 accessible aisle seats by
October 1, 2008.

In addition to providing for this seating, the Decree
also obligates the Garden to remedy hundreds of architectural
barriers along the routes between the Garden’s entrances and the
newly accessible seats. This will ensure that patrons with
disabilities will be able to use all of the restaurants, bars,
elevators, bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains that
line the routes to their seats.

As a result of the Consent Decree, fans with
disabilities will for the first time in the Garden’s history have
a right to purchase accessible floor seats in the Arena for all
events. The Decree ensures that the Garden’s ticketing and
pricing policies for all Arena events will afford individuals
with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from the Garden’s
services in a manner comparable to that afforded to other
individuals, giving first preference for tickets for wheelchair
locations and companion seating for all events at the Arena to
those who request such seats for reasons related to a disability.
The Garden has also agreed to pay $55,000 to the United
States, and to expend at least $10,000 per year for the next
three years on advertisements promoting the availability of
accessible seating.

Finally, the Garden has agreed to comply with the ADA
in all respects if it relocates to a location other than its
current site, or substantially renovates its current facility.
The Garden has represented that it intends either to relocate to
a new facility or, alternatively, to undertake a significant
renovation of the existing Garden. Based on that representation,
the United States has agreed to the changes described above (as
well as others) that will benefit individuals with disabilities
attending events at the Garden during the 2007-08, 2008-09, and
2009-10 basketball and hockey seasons.

Should the Garden’s
planned relocation or renovation not occur in accordance with the
Garden’s anticipated schedule, the Garden has committed to make
additional changes to the current Garden, subject to good faith
negotiations with the government, to further enhance
accommodations for individuals with disabilities beginning with
the 2010-11 season. Should the Garden not relocate or renovate,
and not make additional changes to the current Arena, the
Government may, under the Consent Decree, seek additional
remedies through litigation.

The ADA, which took effect in 1992, was enacted to
address what Congress characterized as a “serious and pervasive
social problem” of discrimination against individuals with
disabilities in public accommodations, employment,
transportation, and other areas of public life. In passing the
ADA, Congress expressly found that individuals with disabilities
continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including
the effects of architectural barriers.

The ADA bans discrimination against persons with disabilities by owners and operators of public accommodations, and establishes an ongoing
requirement for such owners and operators to remove architectural
barriers to access where such removal is “readily achievable,”
and to provide alternative methods to make services available
where it is deemed not readily achievable to remove such
barriers. The ADA also requires owners and operators of public
accommodations to make required alterations to facilities readily
accessible to individuals with disabilities to the maximum extent
feasible, to provide appropriate and necessary auxiliary aids and
services, and to reasonably modify policies to otherwise ensure
“full and equal enjoyment” of these services by individuals with

Mr. GARCIA stated: “Equal access to Madison Square
Garden for those with disabilities is required by law. Today’s
agreement is the first step toward ensuring every visitor to the
Garden can fully enjoy the events held there.”

“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously
enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act so that individuals
with disabilities and their families have equal access to the
Nation’s sports and entertainment venues, like New York City’s
iconic Madison Square Garden,” said Mrs. COMISAC.
A Fact Sheet summarizing the principal terms of the
Consent Decree is attached.

Assistant United States Attorneys SEAN C. CENAWOOD,
JAMES L. COTT, and BENJAMIN H. TORRANCE are in charge of the

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