Can You Refuse Customers in Poor Health?
David L. Herbert
Support in the courtsA relatively recent decision from the state of Florida might provide some legal support for the exclusion of individuals from participation in various fitness activities based on their health status. In this case from the United States District of the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division [Larsen v. Carnival Corp. Inc. (2003), 242 F.Supp. 2nd 1333], the plaintiff was a paraplegic who used a motorized wheelchair and suffered from obstructive sleep apnea, morbid obesity and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He sought to vacation on the defendants' cruise line in January 2001. In advance of the planned vacation, the plaintiff submitted a special requirements information sheet to the cruise line that indicated, among other things, that he used a Bi-Pap machine for his pulmonary difficulties. However, once on the ship, his Bi-Pap machine was not functioning properly, and he needed a replacement. The cruise line did not have one to give him. Consequently, the ship's doctor decided to disembark the plaintiff for medical reasons, since no replacement Bi-Pap machine was readily available at that time, and the ship was scheduled to depart. Although the plaintiff offered to sign a waiver and requested that he be allowed to continue with the ship, the cruise line followed its doctor's medical decision.
The plaintiff ultimately filed suit, contending that his rights under the ADA were violated. The court considered the various arguments, and determined that the regulations adopted by the Department of Justice under the ADA made it clear that while eligibility criteria "that singles out persons with disabilities for exclusion may not be utilized to exclude those individuals from participation in various accommodations, ... neutral eligibility criteria could be used as part of a screening process." In this regard, the court noted that the regulations provided that, "A public accommodation may, however, impose neutral rules and criteria that screen out, or tend to screen out, individuals with disabilities, if the criteria are necessary for the safe operation of the public accommodation. Examples of safety qualifications that would be justifiable in appropriate circumstances would include height requirements for certain amusement park rides or a requirement that all participants in a recreational rafting competition be able to meet a necessary level of swimming proficiency. Safety requirements must be based on actual risks and not on speculation, stereotypes or generalizations about individuals with disabilities."
Based on these regulations, the court determined that "it is abundantly clear, based upon undisputed, objective medical evidence in the record, that the decision to disembark ... [the plaintiff] was based upon a reasonable concern for safety, rather than mere speculation, stereotypes or generalizations about his disability." Therefore, the court ruled that, "after careful review of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the court finds that the disembarkation of ... [the plaintiff] was based on neutral eligibility criteria and on actual, medically recognized risks."
Like the situation in this case, fitness facilities are sometimes faced with the decision of whether to exclude individuals from participation based on their medical conditions, or to limit such participants' activities in some manner. So long as these decisions are based on objective, neutrally derived criteria, and are not used for the purposes of discriminating against individuals with disabilities or illnesses, it appears that these decisions may now have some precedence, given the ruling in this case.
Facility of the Week
Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center