CITYWIDE ¬ó Starline Tours of Hollywood, Inc., one of the oldest and largest sightseeing companies in Los Angeles with several stops in Santa Monica, entered into an agreement Monday with federal officials after allegedly discriminating against customers with disabilities.
Starline was purportedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles on the company¬ís tours.
The consent decree was accompanied by a federal complaint requiring Starline to ensure that any new vehicles purchased or leased for touring purposes would be wheelchair-accessible.
According to the complaint, the matter was initiated by Amy Champlin, a wheelchair user who suffers from Friedrich¬ís Ataxia. In March 2011, Champlin and several companions traveled to Los Angeles to attend the National Ataxia Foundation¬ís annual meeting.
In preparation for their trip, Champlin contacted Starline. Initially she was told that the tours were not accessible to disabled individuals unless they could walk on the bus and stow their wheelchairs.
By persisting, however, Champlin was able to reserve a wheelchair-accessible tour for herself and five of her companions.
Though Champlin made reservations more than two months in advance, a non-accessible vehicle was sent on the morning of the tour, and the accessible vehicle that was eventually sent was not operational.
Champlin and her companions were not able to take the tour.
In addition to making changes to provide equivalent services to patrons with disabilities, Starline agreed to pay $5,000 for a civil penalty and $15,000 for damages to Champlin and her companions.
The consent decree is subject to court approval.
¬ìStarline does not admit liability or any violation of the ADA or any other law,¬î according to the consent decree. ¬ìRather, this consent decree is voluntarily entered into by the parties for the purpose of resolving disputed issues and improving Starline¬ís best practices and customer service.¬î
Starline agreed to maintain a sufficient number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to ensure an equivalent level of service for individuals who use wheelchairs.
¬ìWe believe that we are doing what is asked of us, and we¬íre happy to have the [Department of Justice] come and inspect us any time they wish,¬î said Kamrouz Farhadi, a chairman of Starline Tours of Hollywood, Inc. ¬ìAt the same time we¬íre very happy for people to come and use our services. We were thinking it might be worthwhile for the [Department of Justice] to look at other companies that supply similar services … it would show the difference between what we are doing and what we have been doing.¬î
As part of this case, Starline also implemented a policy requiring all of its employees to receive mandatory training on their obligations under the ADA.
¬ìAs described in the federal lawsuit and consent decree filed [Monday], Starline Tours carries more than 1 million passengers a year,¬î said United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. in a statement. ¬ìThis settlement will ensure that Starline¬ís disabled customers will be able to enjoy all of the company¬ís tours ¬ó just like every other local resident or tourist who chooses to visit and tour the city of Los Angeles.¬î
Farhadi said Starline offers a variety of tours, and all of them are wheelchair-accessible.
Said Farhadi: ¬ìWe¬íre happy to have any wheelchair user get in touch with us, book a tour and use our services.¬î