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US Justice Dept. intervenes in disability bias suit against San Juan

The US Justice Department has intervened in a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by individuals with mobility disabilities against the City of San Juan under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Broad Coalition for Functional Diversity for Equality (CADFI, in Spanish), a nonprofit that fights for the social equality of people with functional diversity, filed the lawsuit against Luma Energy, the Municipality of San Juan and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in late July, as News is my Business reported.

The department’s complaint alleges that San Juan fails to provide people with mobility disabilities equal access to the city’s public sidewalk system. Furthermore, the federal agency alleges that there are widespread accessibility issues with San Juan’s sidewalks, including curb ramps that are cracked, too steep or nonexistent, and walkways that are uneven, too narrow, or obstructed by bollards, utility poles or other obstacles.

The Justice Department claims are based on findings by the Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights as well as corroborating evidence developed in a subsequent investigation conducted by the department, it said in a statement.

Both San Juan and the plaintiffs consented to the department’s intervention in the proceedings.

“The department has already participated in discussions with the parties and hopes for San Juan’s continued cooperation in reaching a resolution that brings the city into compliance with the ADA and Section 504,” it stated.

 Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said “the ADA’s employment, transportation, and public accommodation protections provide little benefit to people with mobility disabilities if they cannot safely navigate a city’s streets and sidewalks.”

“This lawsuit aims to ensure that San Juan meets its obligations under federal law to ensure that its public sidewalk system is accessible to people with disabilities,” she added.

The suit filed at the US District Court for Puerto Rico raises concerns over nearly 60 utility poles that block access to sidewalks on at least 20 streets in San Juan.

“The ADA and Section 504 require that individuals with disabilities have equal access to city sidewalks so that they can fully participate in community life,” said US Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico.

“We’re committed to ensuring that San Juan takes the necessary steps to make its sidewalks, curb ramps and crosswalks accessible to all city residents and visitors, and confident that we can work with the city and the plaintiffs to secure a meaningful resolution of this civil action,” he said.

The motion and complaint seeking intervention were jointly filed by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

The department also previously filed a statement of interest in this matter.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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