PHILADELPHIA – Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania decided to find out if people with disabilities could enjoy popular and often frequented restaurants in Philadelphia as readily as patrons with no disabilities.
"Philadelphia is a city that is well known for its restaurants, and persons with disabilities should be able to fully enjoy the food and atmosphere that our restaurants provide," U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said in an email interview with the Pennsylvania Record.
"Accordingly, we announced and undertook the review to see whether 25 of the most popular restaurants in Philadelphia were in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)."
Nearly all of the restaurants returned their surveys, and all of those that did respond are working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to come in compliance with the ADA, Memeger and a spokeswoman in his office said.
The odd restaurant out was the South Philadelphia Tap Room on Mifflin Street, which ended up facing a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Attorney's office.
A previous Pennsylvania Record story quoted a California attorney saying the U.S. Attorney's Office relied on self-reporting to determine which restaurants would be visited. Both Memeger and a U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman said this isn't true, that physical surveys were conducted in all the restaurants that returned surveys.
"Each restaurant, except for South Philadelphia Tap Room and one restaurant that was in the process of moving locations at the time of our review, returned self-evaluations and had been physically inspected by a Department of Justice architect with expertise in the ADA," Memeger said.
"To date, we have only had to file suit against the South Philadelphia Tap Room, as the restaurants that returned the self-evaluation and were inspected have either been found to be in compliance with the ADA, or are now taking concrete steps with our input to come into compliance with the ADA."
The South Philadelphia Tap Room did not respond in a timely fashion to the ADA Compliance Review when the U.S. Attorney's Office mailed the survey to the restaurant on March 6, 2015, according to the lawsuit. The mailing was signed for by someone at the pub but no response was forthcoming, according to the lawsuit.
Another review was hand-delivered to the pub and also was signed for the following April 16, along with a letter requesting a response by April 21, the lawsuit said.
When no response was received, an assistant U.S. attorney spoke with the pub's owner, John Longacre, the following May 8, the lawsuit said. Longacre requested previous correspondence and survey be emailed to him, which did happen, but there still was no response, the lawsuit said.
The U.S. Attorney followed up with a letter August 18, listing the pub's alleged accessibility problems and requiring they be rectified, the lawsuit said. That letter was signed for and there was no response. There also was no response to an email on Sept. 11, the lawsuit said.
"It would be readily achievable for defendants to remove some or all of the barriers to access at the Tap Room," the lawsuit said. "Defendants have failed to remove some or all of the barriers to access at the Tap Room."
The lawsuit against the Mifflin Street pub and its owner alleged South Philadelphia Tap Room exhibited numerous violations of the ADA, particularly in its entrance and restrooms.
“The purpose of the Compliance Review was to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to area restaurants,” Memeger was quoted in the Department of Justice announcement about the lawsuit.
“Such an initiative is important in a city like Philadelphia that is widely known for its vibrant restaurant scene. As alleged, neither the ADA, nor the warnings from this Office were enough to convince the South Philadelphia Tap Room to comply with the law, and the goal of this lawsuit is to see that they finally do.”
On May 13, the clerk of court was ordered to mark the action closed for statistical purposes and to place it in the civil suspense file, after being signed by Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.
Memeger said he hoped the greater message about the seriousness of ADA compliance is loud and clear.
"It is our hope that non-targeted restaurants have received the message that ADA compliance is important to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that non-compliance is bad for business and can result in legal action," he said.