| May 2011
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By Corrie M. Anders
Two popular restaurants and a package-shipping firm in Noe Valley have been sued in federal court on charges that they discriminated against customers with physical handicaps.
Pasta Pomodoro, Bacco Ristorante, and a package-shipping business the plaintiffs identified as Mailboxes Etc. were accused of failing to provide disabled shoppers with easy access to their establishments or to provide appropriate bathroom facilities.
San Rafael resident Craig Yates and a married Santa Rosa couple, Daren Heatherly and Irma Ramirez, filed the complaints in U.S. District Court. The three plaintiffs have filed dozens of similar lawsuits against businesses across California.
The lawsuit followed a wave of letters that the trio sent late last year to shops, bars, and restaurants in the 24th Street commercial corridor. The letters said the businesses violated both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Many of the businesses immediately initiated remedial actions. (See “Flurry of Letters Spurs Shops to Improve Access for Disabled,” Voice February 2011.)
In his complaint, Yates said he visited Bacco’s at 737 Diamond St. on four separate occasions between last December and March of this year. On his first visit, Dec. 15, Yates said he “struggled to open the door” to the restaurant and only got inside with help from the maitre d’. Yates also said he made a “futile” attempt to use the restaurant’s bathroom, despite a busboy’s assistance.
Yates said he encountered the same inaccessible entrance and restroom during visits on Jan. 13, Feb. 24, and March 9.
Heatherly and Ramirez filed their March 7 lawsuit following visits to Pasta Pomodoro last year on Nov. 18 and Dec. 16. Heatherly said the restaurant did not have an easy access and that he had to “summon his driver to open the door.” In addition, the couple said neither the women’s nor the men’s bathroom was fully accessible for handicapped users.
In another lawsuit, filed Feb. 11, Heatherly stated he could not go inside Mailboxes Etc. during a Nov. 18 visit because he “encountered steps that were an architectural barrier” and that there was “no method to summon assistance.” Heatherly said he returned Dec. 16, along with Ramirez, and found that “no remedial work has been done” at the firm, located at 4104 24th St.
Each lawsuit seeks triple damages of up to $12,000, plus attorney’s fees.
The lawsuits said Yates is a triplegic who uses a wheelchair. Heatherly is afflicted with multiple sclerosis and also uses a wheelchair. Ramirez suffers from “post-polio system” and uses a wheelchair or crutches.
The businesses did not return phone calls seeking comment by our press deadline.