Marriott Must Provide Access to Disabled Golfers

Judge states that 'single rider cars are reasonable and necessary
Golfdom - David Frabotta - February 20, 2008


A federal judge ruled Jan. 28 that Marriott International's golf division is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act because it failed to provide "accessible" or "single-rider" golf cars to disabled persons at its managed properties, according to court documents.

Massachusetts attorney Mary Ebel says golf courses can avoid costly litigation by offering single-rider golf cars at their facilities. It could bolster rounds as well.

The summary judgment that Justice Phyllis Hamilton handed down in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California concludes: "Marriott's policy, by which it refuses to provide accessible carts to disabled golfers, discriminates against plaintiffs, mobility-impaired golfers." The ruling further states that single-rider golf cars are "both reasonable and necessary to accommodate the plaintiffs' disabilities."

Plaintiffs in the case are Lawrence Celano, Richard Thesing and William Hefferon, disabled golfers. They did not pursue monetary damages in the case.

Marriott owns and operates 26 golf courses throughout the United States. It presently offers a pilot program at its four owned properties, where single-rider golf cars are available. However, the court found that the management company is obligated to supply the same access at its managed properties.

The two parties were negotiating a settlement at presstime. If the parties do not reach an agreement, then Justice Hamilton will determine appropriate injunctive relief, which might include how many single-rider cars each Marriott property must supply. Marriott had no comment at presstime. The company reserves the right to appeal the decision.

The ruling comes while Department of Justice collects opinions about its proposed ruling to require golf courses to supply better accessibility for handicapped persons. The DOJ issued a proposed rule in late 2004 that favored the requirement of at least one single-rider golf car at each golf facility. That proposed rule currently is open for public comment, so final regulations are not expected any time soon.