- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project has filed lawsuits against a shopping mall, a soccer association and various businesses in El Paso for allegedly violating a federal law that provides protections to people with disabilities.

The lawsuits, which were filed on behalf of four El Pasoans with disabilities, were among more than 30 filed across Texas on Monday in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuits also kicked off a campaign aimed at raising awareness and respect for people with disabilities who face unnecessary obstacles through their daily lives, said attorney Kyle Reinert, who leads the area civil rights group.

He said the lawsuits seek to improve compliance with the ADA, which became law on July 26, 1990.

“Even 25 years later, there is still significant, unnecessary barriers to accessibility in El Paso, across Texas and the nation,” Reinert said during a press conference Monday in conjunction with Desert-ADAPT, Volar Center for Independent Living, and members of El Paso’s disability community.

One of the lawsuits claims the two-story Sunland Park Mall does not have an accessible elevator or handicapped accessible bathrooms.

Plaintiff Raul Torres, who uses a motorized scooter, said he faced several problems with accessing the restrooms and getting to the upper level of the mall on July 14.

Representatives from the mall could not be reached for comment.

Rosemary Hahn, 40, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis, sued the Night Eyes Protective Services, Inc. and the Paso Del Norte Soccer Association for allegedly refusing to allow her to park in an accessible lot near her 7-year-old son’s soccer game on May 2.

“They said I did not look disabled enough, despite having a handicap placard and license plates,” she said.

Hahn said she suffered a permanent injury to her right knee after having to use a cane to walk a quarter mile into the Westside Sports Complex where the game was taking place.

Night Eyes Protective Services declined comment. Representatives from the soccer association could not be reached for comment.

EP Summit Investments, L.P, was also sued for allegedly failing to provide accessible restrooms or ramps in three buildings that the company owns and operates as Pizza Hut restaurants.

Lucy Torres, 23, who suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a motorized scooter, said she encountered many difficulties when trying to use the bathroom at Pizza Hut on 6704 Montana Ave. on Feb. 2, 2014. She also claims that she could not find an accessible parking spot or use the facilities at another Pizza Hut on 5201 Montana. earlier this month.

“It is humiliating,” Torres said.

Gilbert Malooly, who is named as a registered agent for EP Summit Investments, L.P. in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

Reinert hopes the shopping mall and businesses sued comply to make the necessary modifications before going to trial, as in most cases related with disability rights.

Other lawsuits were filed in Houston, Austin, Odessa and the Rio Grande Valley. The claims focused on discrimination occurring in restaurants, bars, vineyards, parks and transportation providers, among others.

“With today’s technology, there is no excuse for discriminating against people with disabilities,” said Joe Berra, coordinator of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s ADA Campaign. “Access is a civil right, and across Texas we are working to ensure that people with disabilities are fully included in our society.”

Lorena Figueroa may be reached at 5465-6129.

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(c)2015 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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