From the Editor: We have been asked by the parties to a class action settlement to run the following Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action and Fairness Hearing. It is unlike most things we publish, but it may be of particular interest to our blind readers who may be members of the affected class. Here, unedited, is the Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action and Fairness Hearing:
This Notice has been approved by the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
Be advised of the preliminary approval of the settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by Cari Shields and Amber Boggs (the “Named Plaintiffs”) against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., and certain other Disney affiliates (“Disney”). The Named Plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of all members of the Settlement Classes, as defined below, allege that, as individuals with visual impairments, they were denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney theme parks in California and Florida (the “Disney Parks”) or the websites owned or operated by Disney. Disney denies the Named Plaintiffs’ allegations and denies any fault or wrongdoing whatsoever.
Under the proposed settlement, which the Court preliminarily approved on May 4, 2012, Disney will make certain changes to its policies and practices (as set forth in the Class Action Settlement Agreement and Release) in exchange for the Settlement Classes releasing claims regarding the accessibility of the Disney Parks and websites owned or operated by Disney as they exist at the time of this settlement, or as they may be modified in accordance with the Settlement Agreement. A Final Approval and Fairness Hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for August 3, 2012, at 9:30 a.m., in the courtroom of the Honorable Dolly M. Gee, United States District Court for the Central District of California, 312 N. Spring Street, Courtroom 7, Los Angeles, California 90012.
Please read this Notice carefully. It contains important information about your legal rights concerning the proposed settlement of this lawsuit.
The Court has preliminarily approved the following four Settlement Classes.
(1) The Website Class: All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be unable to gain equal access to or enjoyment of one or more of the websites owned or operated by Disney such as <www.disney.go.com>, <www.disneyland.com>, <www.disneyworld.com>, and <www.disneycruise.com> as a result of their visual disability.
(2) The Effective Communication Class: All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) the absence of maps in an alternative format, or (ii) the absence of menus in an alternative format, or (iii) the absence of schedules of events at the Disney Parks in an alternative format, or (iv) inadequate or inconsistent operation of the audio description service on the Handheld Device, or (v) Disney’s refusal to provide a free or discounted pass to their sighted companions, or (vi) the failure to be read, in full, the menus, maps or schedules of events at the Disney Parks.
(3) The Service Animal Class: All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) the fee charged for the use of a kennel for their service animal, or (ii) the absence of reasonably-designated service animal relief areas, or (iii) the absence of a location to kennel their service animal at attractions that do not allow service animals, or (iv) the lack of equal interaction with Disney employees who portray Disney characters because the individuals with visual impairments are accompanied by service animals.
(4) The Infrastructure Class: All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) physical barriers to access, or (ii) the lack of reasonable modifications to Disney’s policies and practices to permit such equal access or enjoyment. Among other things, the members of this class have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the parade viewing areas at the Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort, and to public lockers or parking lots at the Disneyland Resort.
Under the Settlement Agreement, Disney has agreed to enhance the services it currently offers to guests with visual impairments at the Disney Parks and on websites owned or operated by Disney. Those changes include: updating its guidelines regarding the manner in which costumed Disney characters interact with guests accompanied by service animals; providing certain Braille schedules, menus and maps; providing additional audio description and information about facilities and attractions on the handheld device already available to guests with visual disabilities; modifying policies and practices applicable to guests accompanied by service animals, including designating additional relief areas for service animals and modifying the options available to guests accompanied by service animals when service animals cannot ride on certain attractions; providing a limited number of free admission passes to be distributed by an agreed-upon charitable organization serving individuals with visual impairments; modifying guidelines regarding the reserved viewing areas for guests with disabilities at live parades; enhancing locker and parking facilities; and enhancing procedures and standards for making websites owned or operated by Disney accessible to users who access those websites using screen reader software utilities.
If Judge Gee approves the proposed settlement, members of the classes will release all claims for discrimination on the basis of visual disability as to any feature of the Disney Parks or websites owned or operated by Disney, or the way in which they were or are operated, as they existed at the time of the Court’s final approval of settlement or as they may be modified under the terms of the settlement. More specifically, the Settlement Agreement provides as follows:
In consideration for the mutual promises and covenants set forth or referred to in this Settlement Agreement, Class Members who are not Named Plaintiffs, upon the entry of the Final Approval Order, will release the Released Parties from any and all claims, counter-claims, liabilities, obligations, demands, and actions of any and every kind or nature whatsoever, known or unknown, that the Class Members may have against the Released Parties for discrimination and/or denial of equal access to or enjoyment of any goods, services, facilities, websites, privileges, advantages, or accommodations based upon a disability related to visual impairment under the common law or any state, local or federal statute, rule or regulation, arising from Disney’s practices or procedures in connection with, or the condition of, the Disney Parks or websites owned or operated by Disney prior to the Effective Date, or as those practices, procedures or conditions at the Disney Parks or of the websites owned or operated by Disney are subsequently modified to comply with the terms of this Settlement Agreement. This release includes but is not limited to any and all claims that have arisen or might have arisen that could have been asserted in the Action, including claims in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.), the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civil Code §§ 51 et seq.), the Disabled Persons Act (Cal. Civil Code §§ 54 et seq.), any other state, local or federal statute, rule, or regulation, or common law that governs, addresses or affects the rights of individuals with disabilities to gain equal or full access to or enjoyment of places of public accommodation or places open to the public. This release includes, but is not limited to, claims for class-wide injunctive or declaratory relief alleging a class-wide pattern and practice of disability-based discrimination in, or an unlawful disparate impact associated with, access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks or the websites owned or operated by Disney. This release is intended to bind all Settlement Classes and Class Members and to preclude such Class Members from asserting or initiating future claims with respect to the issues in this Action or the subject matter of this Settlement Agreement.
The Named Plaintiffs have filed a motion asking the Court to award them service payments of $15,000 each. The Court will decide whether such payments are fair and reasonable. You can see the complete motion for service payments at <www.pacer.gov> or <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.
Class Counsel is applying to the Court to be paid attorneys' fees and costs in the aggregate amount of no more than $1,550,000. The Court will decide whether the fees and costs Class Counsel seeks are fair and reasonable. You can see Class Counsel's complete application for attorneys' fees and costs at <www.pacer.gov> or <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.
If you want to comment on, or object to, the settlement, you must mail your statement to Forizs & Dogali, P.A., 4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway, Suite 300, Tampa, Florida 33634 (1-813-289-0700). Your comment or objection must include at least your name, address, and telephone number, a reference to the lawsuit, and a discussion of the comment or objection, and must be postmarked no later than July 6, 2012.
On May 4, 2012, Judge Gee granted preliminary approval to the proposed settlement. After considering the comments and/or objections received from Class members, Judge Gee will next decide whether or not to: (1) grant final approval of the settlement; (2) grant Class Counsel's application for fees and costs; and (3) award service payments to the Named Plaintiffs. A hearing will be held on August 3, 2012, at 9:30 a.m., in Courtroom 7 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, 312 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90012.
You may attend this hearing at your own expense, but are not obligated to do so. If you choose to attend, you may request an opportunity to speak or be heard, but the Court is not required to allow this. You may retain an attorney at your own expense to represent you, but are not required to do so. If you intend to attend the fairness hearing, you must send a written notice of intent to appear to Forizs & Dogali, P.A., 4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway, Suite 300, Tampa, Florida 33634 (1-813-289-0700). Your notice of intent to appear must include at least your name, address, and telephone number, a reference to the lawsuit, and a statement that you intend to appear at the hearing, and must be postmarked no later than July 6, 2012. If you wish to speak or be heard at the hearing, you must also include this request in your notice of intent to appear.
You can obtain a copy of the complete settlement agreement from Class Counsel using the contact information listed below. You may also inspect the non-confidential parts of the case file in this lawsuit by going to the website of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (<www.pacer.gov>) or at <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.
Forizs & Dogali, P.A.
4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway
Tampa, Florida 33634
2. The "Effective Date" is as defined in the Settlement Agreement, but may be summarized as the date when the Court's order approving the Settlement Agreement is no longer subject to appeal or challenge, or the last such appeal or challenge has been decided in favor of the Court's approval of the Settlement Agreement.