Disney Doesn’t Want Executive Questioned In ADA Suits
ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney Company and its attorneys are battling a request to have one of its top executives sit for a deposition in controversial lawsuits over access to theme park attractions for people with disabilities.
Tom Staggs, currently chief operating officer of Walt Disney Co., was formerly the division chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, when the theme parks adopted a new policy on disability access in 2013.
Dozens of families with children with autism have sued, alleging that children with cognitive disabilities don’t have the patience required to wait for a certain ride — even if they are not waiting in line. While Disney has generally declined to comment on the lawsuits, it has argued in court filings that it went to great lengths to provide service to its guests with disabilities.
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An attorney representing many of those families, Andy Dogali, recently filed a request to depose Staggs in the litigation. In response, Disney is seeking a judge’s order protecting Staggs from the request. The cases are filed in Orlando federal court.
An attorney for Disney, Jeremy White of Kaye Sholer, explained the company’s position in an email to Dogali, saying that Staggs has “no unique personal knowledge of the relevant facts at issue in this case, his deposition is improper and unwarranted. Any information you plan to seek from Mr. Staggs can be obtained through less intrusive methods of discovery such as serving interrogatories or deposing lower-level employees.”
Disney attorneys said in a court filing that “every second of Mr. Staggs’ time is valuable and sitting for a deposition is a distraction that courts seek to prevent.”
Staggs already filed a declaration for the court, which states that “from time to time Mr. Staggs received information about DAS (Disability Access Service) from the group responsible for its design, implementation and administration, and made suggestions about points specifically drawn to his attention.”
Disney attorneys have said they are happy to make available other employees with more direct knowledge of the programs. Such efforts to shield a top executive from a lengthy deposition are not unusual for large corporations.
Disney has denied any discrimination or violation, and said it prides itself on accessibility throughout its facilities, among other things. It has also made these points in court:
• The company established a new department, Services for Guests with Disabilities, and provides a “full array of services ranging from guidebooks that assist guests with disabilities to policies and procedures that enhance their experience at the various theme parks and resorts.”
• Plaintiffs in the case, or the people with disabilities, preferred the previous program because it allowed them to enter rides directly and immediately without waiting.
• The complaints allegedly fail to prove that the Disability Access Service program hasn’t accommodated their disability.
Disney ended its previous program, the Guest Assistance Card, because the older program was abused by wealthy people who hired guests with disabilities to take them to the front of a line. The new program, called Disability Access Service, no longer allows people with disabilities to skip waiting, but it allows them to make a reservation in advance and avoid standing in line until that time.
The lawsuits cite “meltdown behaviors” that sometimes force children and their parents to leave the parks.
© 2015 The Orlando Sentinel
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