WLAC sued over Americans with Disabilities Act ‘violation’

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The students, Charles Guerra, Karlton  Bontrager and a plaintiff listed only by her first name, Crystal, brought the lawsuit under the federal Americans for Disabilities Act after the college discontinued a shuttle that transported them around campus. They allege that the loss of the shuttle caused them to take measures that endangered the health of one student, who suffered four falls on the hilly campus.

Guerra, a Playa Vista resident who has attended West Los Angeles for several years, has a spinal injury that does not allow him to walk long distance without assistance.

“It took me a long time to get from a wheelchair to a walker and then to a cane. [Without the shuttle] it makes things so much more difficult because now I have to concentrate on where I’m walking and not falling  instead of how am I going to get to my classes,” Guerra said.

Until February 2016, the campus offered a shuttle to students with disabilities that provided “door to door” service and allowed students to request pickups and drop offs at certain locations on campus. A new system using golf carts was then implemented.

According to court documents, West Los Angeles terminated the golf cart service after a student at Los Angeles City College sued the community college district and it was subsequently determined that the carts were not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The community college district’s attorneys Cynthia Germano and Matthew Onyett   sought to dismiss the case by the plaintiffs, stating that West Los Angeles never denied them access to the campus.

“The facilities at West Los Angeles College were fully accessible to plaintiffs’ at all relevant times, a fact that was explained to each plaintiff by [the college] at their respective interactive process meetings,” the attorney wrote in court briefs.

The lawyers told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald  the golf carts that the college offered were  personal mobility devices  and “as a matter of law, [West Los Angeles College]   is not required to provide such an accommodation. “As the one and only accommodation sought by plaintiffs in this litigation is legally unreasonable, plaintiffs’ motion must fail for this reason as well.”

Fitzgerald denied the defendants request and the six- day trial, which featured expert testimony on ADA law from both sides, concluded on Nov. 13.

The plaintiffs are asking for the judge to find that West Los Angeles violated their rights under the ADA and related state law.

“Plaintiffs are prepared to work with defendants following the court’s ruling on summary judgment to determine an appropriate remedy, including the type of vehicles to be used, appropriate routes, and other specifics of on-campus transportation options. Plaintiffs will seek further assistance of the court regarding remedy only if and as necessary to ensure a fair and efficient resolution,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote in court records.

Aaron Fischer, one of the attorney representing Guerra and his co-plaintiffs, said his clients were stunned to learn that the shuttle service had been terminated and only learned that it was discontinued after the fact.

“There was no advance notice.   Even the disabilities coordinator didn’t know,” Fischer said. “They said ‘you know where the disabled parking spaces are’ and that’s all. We thought this was a really ham- handed way of handling the situation.”

Guerra, an Army veteran who eventually wants to transfer to California State University at Dominguez and study to become a substance abuse counselor, said the trial has taken a physical and mental toll on him.

“It seems like disabled people don’t count. But I’m not giving up,” he vowed.

Fischer admires his client’s spirit and resolve. “He’s as determined as they come. He’s had some really difficult challenges and yet here he is going back at this stage of his life. He’s so determined,” the attorney said.  “They cancelled the shuttle over a year ago and he’s still going to school.  Twice he has fallen and had to be take away be an ambulance. It’s really amazing.”

The judge could rule on the case as early as the middle of December.

Octavio Gonzales, a spokesman with the community college district, did not respond to inquiries for comment.

 

Gary Walker contributed to this story.

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