FRIDAY, JANUARY 29, 1999
TDD (202) 514-1888
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American Multi-Cinema, Inc. and AMC Entertainment, operators of one of the nation's largest chains of movie theaters, were sued today by the Justice Department for not providing stadium style seating to individuals who use wheelchairs.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that the companies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying movie-goers who use wheelchairs or cannot climb stairs equal access to stadium-style seats. Stadium style seats are seats that are placed on risers to provide unobstructed views with improved viewing angles. Except in AMC's largest auditoriums, patrons cannot access stadium-style seats unless they can climb stairs.
The Justice Department began investigating AMC's stadium style theaters in the Los Angeles area after receiving complaints from persons with disabilities there who were denied access to stadium-style seats in those theaters. The Department negotiated with AMC for seven months in an attempt to resolve this matter short of litigation.
"This is a matter of basic fairness," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "People who use wheelchairs go to the movies, and pay the same prices, as everyone else. They should have access to seats of comparable quality to those available to most other patrons."
AMC and AMC Entertainment introduced stadium-style seating to motion picture theaters in the U.S. and the trend has recently taken over the movie theater industry. In AMC's stadium-style theaters, many seats are stadium-style, which are located on stepped 18-inch risers and provide a comfortable, unobstructed view of the screen over the heads of persons seated in all rows ahead. There are a few rows of seats at the very front of the theater that are accessed by a sloped aisle. Wheelchair seating is located in this front section in all but a handful of the largest auditoriums in AMC's theater megaplexes, which can have as many as 30 auditoriums.
The seating in the front section of the theater is much closer to the large screen and on a lower level than the stadium-style seats and does not provide the same comfortable, unobstructed view of the screen. By placing almost all wheelchair seating locations in the front section of the theater, AMC has denied access to the better seats for all persons whose disabilities prevent them from climbing stairs.
The ADA requires places of public accommodation, such as movie theaters, to provide equal access to persons with disabilities and prevents them from providing persons with disabilities a lower quality of goods and services than they provide other members of the general public.
The complaint specifically names two AMC theaters in the Los Angeles area, the Norwalk theater, located at 12300 E. Civic Center in Norwalk, California, and the Promenade 16 theater, located at 21801 Oxnard Street in Woodland Hills, California, but covers all of AMC and AMC Entertainment's theaters with stadium-style seating nationwide. AMC operates theaters with stadium-style seating in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and California.
"AMC says it is 'changing the way the world sees movies.' We're just making sure that change complies with the law." added Mr. Lee.
Under the ADA, newly constructed facilities, including motion picture theaters, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. In addition to requiring that some seating be made available to individuals who use wheelchairs, the ADA also requires that those wheelchair seating locations provide lines of sight that are "comparable" to the lines of sight provided to other moviegoers. In the new stadium-style theaters operated by AMC and AMC Entertainment, however, the wheelchair seating locations do not provide comparable lines of sight, because they are much closer to the screen with inferior viewing angles than the stadium-style seats.
Today's lawsuit seeks an order requiring AMC to design, construct, and operate its theaters with stadium-style seating so that they comply with all ADA requirements, including the requirement to provide wheelchair seating areas with comparable sightlines. For those facilities that AMC has already built or has under construction, the lawsuit seeks an order requiring AMC to make whatever modifications are necessary to comply with the ADA. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring AMC to pay damages for patrons with disabilities who have attended movies at AMC theaters and been denied access to stadium-style seats, and to pay civil penalties.
Earlier this year, a federal court in Waco, Texas, ruled that two stadium-style movie theaters in the Cinemark movie theater chain violated the ADA by forcing patrons who use wheelchairs to sit in the front two rows of the theaters in sloped floor seating. That case is currently on appeal. The Department is also investigating other movie theaters and theater chains that do not offer wheelchair locations that provide comparable lines of sight in stadium-style theaters.
Individuals interested in finding out more about the ADA or today's lawsuit can call the Department's toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383/TDD or access the ADA Home Page at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/index.html
Stadium-style seating is elevated on risers
to give the audience better sightlines to the screen.
In the example below, the lower section is on a sloped floor
while the rear section is stadium-style seating.
April 29, 2008