Federal suit filed against Stateline-area motels | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal suit filed against Stateline-area motels

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The owners of five South Lake Tahoe motels are scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Judge William Schubb in Sacramento later this month on civil allegations they violated American with Disabilities Act law.

The federal case was filed July 11 on behalf of a wheelchair-bound woman who tried to secure a room with one of the five lodging establishments located in the Stateline area.

The civil rights-related complaint stems from accusations the places provided insufficient facilities for Andi Millard to gain access to a guest room, registration desk, restroom or parking space while visiting the South Shore area in July 2002.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Rein, said his client eventually got a room the day she sought one.

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Rein has worked on similar cases for 27 years, including a suit against actor Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch.

“I’m somewhat amazed to see these (Tahoe) places not having a ramp to even get into their offices,” Rein said Wednesday.

The motels named in the suit include: the Driftwood Inn and Cafe on Laurel Avenue and LaBaer Motel on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, which is owned by Chuck Edwards and the Edwards Trust; Thunderbird Motel on Laurel Avenue, which is owned by Michael Blank; Carriage House on Laurel Avenue, which is owned by Edward Silvera; and the Travel Inn on Stateline Avenue, which is owned by Amthabhi and Sumitra Patel.

After repeated attempts, the Tahoe Daily Tribune was unable to connect with the motel owners Wednesday because they were either unavailable or not returning phone calls.

Carol Brophy, the attorney representing all the defendants, declined to comment about the allegations. Brophy did indicate Wednesday she’s working on the response to the complaint.

It contends Millard “was denied her right to full and equal access rights to use of the public facilities,” citing the lack of structural or architectural changes discriminated against the woman. She’s a hemiplegic due to a stroke.

Rein hired a disabilities expert to review the problems with the motels and the measures that could be taken to rectify the law.

The Oakland attorney estimated some of the modifications could cost between $1,000 to $5,000 to implement.

He’s uncertain whether the case will go to trial. Many of these cases settle out of court.

The case is not a class action suit at this point, but the plaintiff reserved the right to reopen it as such.

In the event of a default judgment against the five motels in question, damages may add up to $1,000 a day from the date of Millard’s visit on July 16, 2002, to the time it is brought up to full compliance. Litigation fees may be imposed.

More than 43 million Americans are deemed physically or mentally disabled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In the statute, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires owners and operators of public accommodations — listed as an inn, hotel or motel — to maintain grounds that give equal access of all privileges enjoyed by all guests.

The city is not considered liable in such violations, Rein confirmed.

The five motels are located in the city’s planned redevelopment project 3 area, which involves the building of a convention center and hotel complex.

The development agreement inherited by Harrah’s Entertainment when it bought Harveys Casino from Colony Capital of Los Angeles a few years ago is still pending. In the works for nine years, the project has been estimated to take seven years to build.

An extension granted from the city to Harrah’s to explore the public-private sector partnership nears an end-of-year deadline.

As of Wednesday, no other extension beyond the January deadline has been given to Harrah’s, City Manager Dave Jinkens said Wednesday.

Beyond lamenting over a tough year for occupancy in challenging economic times, motel operators have complained of delays in the project holding them back on making improvements if their places are designated to be demolished.

“If they wanted to go through remodeling, they can go ahead and do that. They’re free to do whatever they want under code,” Jinkens said, adding there’s no written agreement with businesses headed toward eminent domain. “There’s a whole host of things that need to occur first.”

Jinkens said the city expects to provide a redevelopment update at its second City Council meeting scheduled Oct. 21.

The South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association plans to take up the ADA compliance issue at its Nov. 13 meeting. The venue will be announced when selected.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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