On June 9, 2015, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a letter to Joseph Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak, presenting its conclusions regarding an extensive, long-term investigation into Amtrak’s noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). In its letter the DOJ concludes that Amtrak has discriminated against persons with disabilities by failing to make existing station facilities accessible.
Under the ADA, Amtrak was to make all existing intercity rail station facilities for which it is responsible readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities by July 26, 2010. Federal statute provides that Amtrak is responsible for maintaining compliant station facilities at (1) public stations where it owns more than 50 percent of the station; (2) stations in proportion to its ownership if no public or private entity owns more than 50 percent of the station; or (3) stations that are majority owned by a private entity in proportion to the percentage of passengers boarding at the station that are Amtrak customers. The DOJ letter includes a list of Amtrak stations for which Amtrak is fully or partially responsible for providing ADA compliant facilities.
The DOJ’s investigation concluded that Amtrak has not complied with the statutory mandate because it has not implemented the required ADA modification at a vast majority of stations for which it is responsible. The DOJ’s letter enumerates the remediation necessary for Amtrak to address its ADA violations. Remedial measures include (1) making all station facilities for which Amtrak is responsible compliant with ADA and its implementing regulations; (2) identifying any stations that are incorrectly classified as exempt from ADA requirements; (3) educating employees on applicable ADA requirements; (4) training all personnel to operate vehicles and equipment safely and to properly assist individuals with disabilities in a respectful and courteous way; and (5) paying compensatory damages to persons aggrieved in an appropriate amount for injuries caused by Amtrak’s failure to comply with ADA.
DOJ proposes to negotiate a court-enforceable agreement with Amtrak to bring it into compliance with the ADA. In the alternative, the DOJ letter notes that Amtrak’s failure to engage with the DOJ in resolving its ADA violations may result in a lawsuit against Amtrak.
DOJ’s stance will no doubt place additional pressure on Amtrak to seek means of compliance with ADA requirements. Commuter rail operators that share station facilities with Amtrak should review the DOJ letter and any agreements with Amtrak to determine their responsibilities with respect to ADA compliance and confirm what obligations, if any, they may have as a result of the DOJ letter.