Georgetown student and wheelchair user Taylor Price (MSB ’10) has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Mr. Smith’s bar, located on 3104 M Street NW, for ordering him to leave the bar the night of January 23, 2009.
According to court documents, Price is seeking $75,000 in compensatory damages. Price and his lawyer denied that they are suing for a specific amount of damages and declined to comment further.
Price said that around 11:15 p.m. last January, he went to Mr. Smith’s with some friends, as he had a number of times before. Almost immediately upon entering the bar, the manager stopped him and asked him where he was going.
“He told me I was not allowed to [go to the back]because the bar was too crowded and that I was a fire hazard,” Price said. “That absolutely shocked me, that someone would be thinking about saying that, or that those words would come to his mind.”
When the manager asked Price to remain in a corner in the front of the bar, Price refused. A bouncer escorted him from the premises. Price said that once he was outside, he watched the bouncers let in other able-bodied people, after they had told him that the bar was too crowded to accommodate him.
“That’s when I felt that I was completely discriminated against, and it was absolutely unacceptable treatment,” Price said.
Mr. Smith’s management declined to comment.
Price is suing Mr. Smith’s bar for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees that anyone with a disability is granted equal protection and equality under the law.
Price’s lawsuit pertains to the ADA’s Title III: Public Accommodations, which mandates that “public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment.” This article also requires that private businesses take into consideration special needs of disabled customers and modify their procedures or practices to accommodate their customers.
Elaine Gardner, Project Director of the Disability Rights Project at the Washington Lawyer’s Committee, explained that the ADA was put in place in order to “prevent any irrational fear or bias against people with disabilities.” Gardner is representing Price in the lawsuit.
“People with disabilities … work too hard to get to a point where they feel comfortable enough to go out in various social settings,” Gardner said. “When events like this happen … it’s detrimental to people’s progress … I really see this as a slap in the face to all people with disabilities.”
In July 2004, Price dove into a sandbar and injured his neck, rendering him quadriplegic. In the five years he has been in a wheelchair, Price said he has never been treated the way he was at Mr. Smith’s last January.
Gardner said that she hopes that this lawsuit serves as an “educational tool” to prevent other bars or restaurants from excluding people in wheelchairs in the future. She also pointed to the “rather unusual” nature of Price’s lawsuit, explaining that most cases usually involve unintentional exclusion.
“I want Mr. Smith’s to do the right thing,” Price said. “I want … managers at Mr. Smith’s and employees at lots of other establishments [to]realize that this treatment of people who have disabilities is 150 percent unacceptable.”