The New Jersey Appellate Division recently reversed a decision of the Law Division finding that a plaintiff bringing a New Jersey Law Against Discrimination public accommodation disability discrimination claim asserting a generalized lack of access need not make a prior request for assistance or a reasonable accommodation. The court previously found that a request for assistance/accommodation from the public facility was necessary to sustain a public accommodation disability discrimination claim alleging overall lack of access. The Court disagreed and found that Plaintiff’s failure to make such a request does not negate the ongoing obligation placed on owners of places of public accommodation to ensure that all persons, including those with disabilities, can gain access.
In Lasky v. Highstown, the Plaintiff Mr. Gregory Lasky, was not able to access several public buildings and facilities during his frequent visits to Highstown, New Jersey because the facilities (including buildings, sidewalks, and parking facilities) were not built to accommodate him as a paraplegic. Mr. Lasky filed a claim of public accommodation disability discrimination under the LAD which was dismissed because the court found he failed to request assistance or an accommodation prior to filing his lawsuit.
In reviewing the lower court’s ruling, the Appellate Division looked to the legislative history of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The Court specifically distinguished situations where the plaintiff brings a claim alleging lack of overall access from those where plaintiff alleges a lack of specific adaptations necessary to accommodate that person’s particular disability. Cases brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination for lack of overall access to places of public accommodation do not require advance notice and/or a specific request for accommodation. Therefore, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Mr. Lasky would be able to sustain a public accommodation disability discrimination claim where Highstown failed to provide him access to sidewalks, the library, the municipal hall, the Army Navy Memorial and parking as a disabled paraplegic (N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49). In contrast under Title II of the Americans with Disability Act, a plaintiff may be required to request an accommodation prior to filing a suit if there is a particularized failure to accommodate as opposed to a general one. However, even in particularized claims, plaintiff will not be required to make a prior request if the need for accommodation is obvious due to the nature of the person’s disability.
The Court noted that nothing in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination indicates that notice and a request are necessary prerequisites to file a claim of public accommodation disability discrimination in the lack of overall access context. A primary principle of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is to hold owners of places of public accommodation responsible to make facilities accessible to disabled persons. The Court’s ruling that Mr. Lasky did not need to request an accommodation before filing his claim supports that proposition.