The United States of America is suing the Chicago Cubs.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit in an Illinois federal court, alleging the franchise has discriminated against individuals with disabilities—especially people who use wheelchairs—through Wrigley Field alterations. The Department of Justice demands, among other remedies, an injunction that would compel the Cubs to further alter MLB’s second oldest ballpark. The lawsuit follows a three-year DOJ review of Wrigley Field’s ADA compliance.
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The case centers on the Cubs’ 1060 Project, named after Wrigley’s address at 1060 West Addison Street. The stadium upgrades, which cost the team hundreds of millions of dollars, began after the 2014 season. It entailed numerous ballpark adjustments, such as expanded seating in the bleachers and the grandstand, reinforced structural supports and added fan amenities. The DOJ concedes these modifications “significantly enhanced the gameday experience for many fans, particularly those able to take advantage of premium clubs and other luxury accommodations.”
But for fans with disabilities, the feds say the new configurations were less welcoming.
To that end, the DOJ accuses the Cubs of removing “the best wheelchair seating in the stadium,” failing “to incorporate wheelchair seating into new premium clubs and group seating areas” and neglecting ADA standards for accessible design. The DOJ further blames the Cubs for what it portrays as ignoring “ample opportunity” to address ADA issues.
ADA regulations, as interpreted by the feds, mandate that Wrigley offer about 200 general admission wheelchair seats “dispersed vertically and horizontally through the stadium.” There must also be wheelchair seating for luxury boxes, club boxes and suites. Wheelchair seats, furthermore, must have lines of sight that are comparable to other seats. This means a person using a wheelchair must be able to see the field between the heads and over the shoulders of people in the row ahead. Wheelchair users also cannot be isolated from other spectators.
The DOJ says the Cubs have struck out on these and other ADA requirements. Most wheelchair seats, the DOJ claims, are relegated to the rear of the bleachers or “in the segregated, unsuitable Batter’s Eye area.” Wheelchair users are also allegedly denied acceptable sightlines. Even the press box, the DOJ insists, violates the ADA since it offers two wheelchair seats when it should offer four.
In the coming weeks, attorneys for the Cubs will answer the complaint, rebut the government’s accusations and offer a dueling assessment of Wrigley’s ADA compliance. For now, the team has issued a statement that sharply denies wrongdoing.
The renovation project, the Cubs insist, “greatly increased accessibility,” with accessible seating options raised by “more than 50%” in various locations. The ballpark also added elevators, expanded accessible restroom facilities and adopted assistive listening technology. The Cubs also claim they “have fully cooperated with every inquiry” requested by the DOJ and even “made several offers to voluntarily further enhance accessible features of the ballpark, including seating, restrooms, concessions and other key accessibility elements.”
The DOJ’s lawsuit isn’t the first ADA challenge to Wrigley renovations. In 2017, Cubs fan David Cerda, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, sued the team. He contends that the 1060 Project eliminated the wheelchair seating area in the right field bleachers, with those seats replaced by a “special ticketing area featuring a bar.” Cerda also criticizes the Cubs for adding a bar to the left field seating area when it could have added wheelchair seating instead. In addition, he maintains that in reconfigured lower box seating “the height difference between the row of wheelchair seats and the row in front of the wheelchair seats is not great enough for wheelchair patrons to see the field of play over patrons standing in front of them.” The case remains on the docket, with attorneys for the Cubs insisting the team has complied with the ADA.
The Cubs aren’t the only MLB team accused of ADA problems in seating. Ten months ago, the Seattle Mariners prevailed in an ADA decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appeals court found that T-Mobile Park offers accessible seating for wheelchair users at different viewing angles and price levels, though remanded the case for further deliberation on sightlines.
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