The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Very Special Arts Texas (VSA) held a press conference Monday to warn Austin residents about a local attorney they said "is targeting small businesses" by filing lawsuits.
In their announcement Monday, they said:
"Over the past year or more, a total of 400 lawsuits have been filed against Austin businesses alleging ADA violations. Ethically, these lawsuits have questionable merit in their basis or claim. A local attorney is targeting small businesses and filing these lawsuits."
Neither group identified the attorney during the conference, but later told KVUE's Jason Puckett that the lawyer being discussed is named Omar Rosales.
Federal records show hundreds of lawsuits filed by Rosales against businesses they allege violate the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In almost all the cases filed, Rosales represented the same Plaintiff.
"We believe in full compliance with the American's With Disabilities act," Said Dennis Borel with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. "But not these tactics. I call this the ' Carpet Bomb' approach which is just to blast lawsuits on every small business they can find and say they're talking about Civil Rights."
Former Human Right's Attorney Jim Harrington attended the conference and agreed with the message. He's currently the pro-bono defense lawyer on seven of these ADA-related cases from Rosales and said to him, it's a scheme.
"There are two issues," he said. "One is that Rosales and his clients pick on small businesses. Then there's a shakedown for money. Starts out about $7,000. If you settle, it will be $1,000. If you fight it it's gong to be $100,000. Then he comes down to $3,000 or $4,000 and the business thinks it will just be cheaper to settle then to fight it."
Harrington said it's not normal procedure to jump straight to a lawsuit.
"When I handled cases for the civil rights project," he said, "we would never sue over something like this. We'd send a demand letter and the stores would fix it."
He also said these suits could cause harm over time.
"It's true that maybe some of the stores didn't measure their parking spaces correctly or maybe they only had one or two," he said. "In the grand scheme of things, though, those are relatively minor infractions...The person with a disability who actually goes in later on after the Rosales scheme often faces a lot of criticism. They say 'Look what you made me do. It cost me a lot of money. If you'd told me about it I would have fixed it.'"
Harrington and the representatives from the VSA and Coalition of Texans with Disabilities said they want business owners to be aware of these lawsuits and recommend calling a lawyer if they are unsure.
When we reached out to Rosales about the conference, he responded with a statement saying "no comment."
The full text of the press release from earlier today can be seen below:
Welcoming Spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act Under Fire
It has been a quarter of a century since the historic signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), highlighting the independence of persons with disabilities. The ADA is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, public services and public accommodations.
Over the past year or more, a total of 400 lawsuits have been filed against Austin businesses alleging ADA violations. Ethically, these lawsuits have questionable merit in their basis or claim. A local attorney is targeting small businesses and filing these lawsuits.
Austin’s disability community, led by VSA Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, will be hosting a press conference on Monday September 12, 2016 starting at 10:30 am at the City Hall Plaza. (301 W. 2nd Street)
With these many lawsuits filed, this attorney has developed a system. He targets primarily small business owners as he drives by and observes the accessible parking. Upon finding even the most minuscule of violations (usually about designated parking), he files a federal law suit, without sending an advance letter to the owner, alleging the violations and potential penalties with the sole intent of instilling fear. In his letter, he identifies a litigant, who is a person with a disability, but who never actually goes into the business or has ever been barred from access to goods and services. Soon after, the business receives a settlement request of $8,000-10,000 for attorney fees.
It is important to note that money requested or provided does not absolve the business of their ADA requirements. Although the purpose of the ADA is to provide access and remove barriers, it is not intended to attack businesses or cause financial distress.We, of course, as a disability group, are totally committed to the ADA, but we do not want it to be turned into a moneymaking scheme for this attorney and his client. Doing that demeans the ADA and alienates businesses of goodwill, which would readily remedy any deficiencies without having a suit filed against them.