Wednesday Federal Law Update- Public Accommodations at Sports Venues

Welcome back for your Wednesday Federal Law Update.  As many of my followers may have picked up on, my favorite type of case is one that presents an issue we can either relate to directly or one which presents a real life dilemma.  Something that could provide some legitimate water cooler debate.

On March 25th, the Fourth Circuit gave us such a case.  Feldman v. Pro Football, Inc., 2011 WL 1097549 (4th Cir. March 25, 2011), involves a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against the the corporate entity which operates the Washington Redskins.  Normally, when we think of legal controversy with the Redskins, it is over their arguably derogatory nickname.  In Feldman, three hearing-impaired plaintiffs sued, requesting that all aural content heard over the public address speakers be captioned in a conspicuous place.  The Redskins had offered fans assisted listening devices to all hearing-impaired fans, but the devices were not effective for fans who were deaf or who had severely impaired hearing. 

One of the Plaintiffs emailed the Redskins about the issue in 2003, asking for all announcements on the stadium jumbotron.  The Redskins declined, but instead offered a handheld captioning device.  The fan complained, stating that the devices would have time delays and the nuisance of having to glance repeatedly from the device to the field.  The fan and two others ultimately filed suit.  After the suit was filed, the Redskins immediately captioned virtually all announcements on two LED scoreboards on opposite sides of the 50-yard line.  Announcements included descriptions of the previous play, referee penalty calls, public announcements before the game and during halftime, and advertising.  However, the stadium did not caption lyrics to the music played during breaks in the game.  (Humorously, the Circuit Court cited a set of racy lyrics from “Shawty Get Loose,” by Lil’ Mama). 

Affirming the District Court ruling granting summary judgment for the Plaintiffs, the Fourth Circuit held that “Whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football, we agree with the district court that the music played over the public address system during Redskins home games is aprt of the football game experience that defendants provide as a good or service, and that the ADA requires full and equal access to the music lyrics.”

I was surprised by this ruling given the level of accommodations that the Redskins attempted to provide.  However, it is difficult to appreciate the difficulties of life without faculties most of us take for granted.  An interesting ruling and one that all attorneys associated with sports franchises should pay careful attention to.


THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. 
Explore posts in the same categories: Federal Employment Law Updates

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