The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the town of New Canaan for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, records show.
The DOJ’s U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut “received a complaint that New Canaan has not placed any restrictions on the restaurants and shops that are extending their businesses outside onto the sidewalk in town,” according to an Aug. 10 letter to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan from Leonard Boyle, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut.
“The complainant further states that the new town ball field, track and tennis courts do not offer parking spaces for people with a disability and that the bleachers at these facilities do not have any accessible seating,” according to the letter, obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
It isn’t clear who filed the complaint, or when. An inquiry left Wednesday with the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs was not immediately returned.
Moynihan referred briefly to the letter during Monday’s meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure. Committee member Amy Murphy Carroll asked for an update on plans to install an elevator in Waveny House. Moynihan said the building had been chosen by Iona Business School “as a semester project” and that a staffer in his office, Tucker Murphy, was working with the school “on a plan for Waveny usage in terms of increasing the revenue plan so that we can bring that back with a plan to do the elevator and second-floor bathrooms.”
“The issue about uses goes to the issue of whether or not you can use the second floor for weddings and other uses, and unless now that we have the first floor all ADA-compliant—and I might mention, too, we received a U.S. attorney Department of Justice letter on our ADA compliance throughout town that we are working on, and as long as we are making progress toward ADA compliance with Waveny House, but we have to have a plan that allows us to use the second floor to have full utilization of the building for all sorts of activities,” Moynihan added.
According to Boyle’s letter, the DOJ is investigating whether the town violated Title II of the ADA mandating that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.”
“Moreover, a public entity engages in discrimination in violation of the ADA when it excludes individuals with disabilities from participation in, or denies the benefits of its services, programs or activities to individuals with disabilities based on facilities of the public entity that are ‘inaccessible or unusable’ by individuals with disabilities,” the letter said.
It adds, “The Department is authorized to investigate the allegations in this matter, seek informal resolution, issue a noncompliance Letter of Findings, attempt to negotiate and secure voluntary compliance, and to file a civil action in federal court if the Attorney General finds that a violation of the ADA has occurred.”
The letter calls for the town to respond with a list of eight items—including New Canaan’s “policies, procedures, directives and training manuals” regarding ADA, copies of all complaints or reports regarding ADA violations that the town has received since 2010 and “a list of any renovations, alterations or new construction to or involving New Canaan’s athletic fields, including New Canaan’s ball fields, track and tennis court and the surrounding real property, since March 15, 2012”—within 30 days of the date of the DOJ’s Aug. 10 letter.
Asked about the response, municipal officials told NewCanaanite.com that the town received an extension to Sept. 23.
“We strongly recommend that you consult with this office prior to making any operational or architectural changes intended to address the allegations of the above mentioned complaint, as any changes must strictly comply with the Title II regulations,” the DOJ letter said. “If you choose to make operational or architectural changes before receiving approval from this office, there is a risk that such changes will not be considered compliant with regulations and we may require further remediation.”
[Note: This article has been updated with new information regarding the educational institution whose business school has offered to create a plan for Waveny House.]
Sound like a shakedown from the DOJ
I’m not familiar with the content of the letter, but enforcement of a federal law that is not being followed is not a shakedown. That’s what the “rule of law” means. The federal government is us: “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as President Lincoln said at Gettysburg.
If these are problems imagine if The DOJ ever decides to take a look at the new library plan for handicapped parking and book returns.