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Americans with Disabilities Act to blame for fast food lawsuit


A New York man made headlines last week when he filed a lawsuit against White Castle Hamburgers claiming that his civil rights had been violated and that he deserved “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

White Castle’s crime: failing to have booths big enough for Martin Kessman, just shy of 300 pounds, to fit in. One would think that in a free society a dispute of this nature would need no governmental involvement at all, but apparently that is not the case.

This story reveals that not only do we have an epidemic of obesity, but we also have a system of laws that make citizens feel entitled to fit into the local burger booth enough that they’ll sue over it.

While often cited as an example of compassionate government and legislative success, the ADA that Kessman’s lawsuit invokes has become a bureaucratic nightmare with a slew of unintended consequences.

The outcome also indicates a larger march toward having sweeping categorical decisions made by central planners, rather than allowing the marginal decisions by individuals dictate our lives.

When individuals make choices through free markets, each person can make decisions based on their own marginal costs and benefits whether or not something is good for them. If someone doesn’t like the seating arrangements at their local burger joint, they can go to the one down the street. But according to the ADA, that isn’t good enough.

When individuals make choices through free markets, each person can make decisions based on their own marginal costs and benefits whether or not something is good for them. If someone doesn’t like the seating arrangements at their local burger joint, they can go to the one down the street.”

The law has led to an entire set of ADA-compliant building codes, which stipulate specifications for everything from toilets and telephones to fishing piers and saunas. A brief glance through the 142 pages of diagrams and stipulations will make a potential small-business owner’s head spin.

The ADA, and the bureaucratic power that it created, leaves federal regulators with a powerful and arbitrary role to make incremental decisions in the economy and people’s lives based only on categorical objectives.

Businesses can be forced to spend thousands, even millions of dollars to accommodate theoretically disabled customers that might arrive at their premises at any date in the future, given a court decision that doing so does not cause undue hardship to the business. The state, of course, decides what hardship is due and what is not.

The sad part of this story is that Kessman probably can reasonably sue White Castle based on the ADA. All you need is for the state to decide that being fat is a disability, and voila, under ADA requirements, he deserves “reasonable accommodation,” a vague term that allows government officials to force a private business to expend funds according to what a state dictates in order to satisfy the demands of lawsuit-hungry attorneys.

In his epic tome “The Road to Serfdom,” economist Friedrich Hayek notes that this kind of top-down approach inherently destroys liberty and substitutes the preferences of governmental elites for those of free individuals in society. It also erodes the foundations of a robust and spontaneous economy and encourages conflict and moral dissonance.

Unfortunately, we have traded compassion between free people for pseudo-compassion through government. Rather than make us better as a society, it has resulted in nothing but apathy, discord, and litigation. Lots and lots of litigation.

Steven Christopher is a graduate finance student in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and may be reached at [email protected]


  • joshuaism

    Gee, why don't you make an argument against the Civil Rights Act as well so we can bring back de facto Jim Crow? Your arguments here apply just as well against that act as well. Perhaps the Tea Party is not the party of Jim Crow but you clearly are.

    You are nuts if you think the ADA is some prohibitively complicated set of laws that no reasonable person could understand. You point out that "a brief glance through the 142 pages of diagrams and stipulations will make a potential small-business owner’s head spin" but no self respecting businessman makes any business decisions on a whim. A little bit of research would pull up a handout by the Small Business Administration that provides a brief 15 page extract of the relevant codes ( http://www.ada.gov/smbusgd.pdf ). If a businessman can't be bothered to do any research beyond "a glance" at the regulations then clearly they are going to make poor business decisions.

    Furthermore, you clearly show a contemptible attitude towards the courts and the rule of law. Did you even stop to consider that the courts may just throw out Kessman's lawsuit? If Kessman is not "severely obese" then his fat ass may not even meet the definition of a disability according to the law ( http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/902cm.html#902.2c… ), just like if he were pregnant. Kessman's filing ( http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?f… ) suggests he is just as ignorant of the ADA as you are.

    But even if he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, he still deserves the right to be heard in court. Everyone does. So you should probably hold your opinion of the ADA to yourself until an actual court RULING is brought forth.

    • John

      A lot of people file suit under ADA claims, and most are dismissed by courts. Steven could make the argument that the ADA is causing tort problems if judges and juries were actually awarding plaintiffs for these suits, but by and large they are not and have not been.

      Steven's columns are usually a suspicious rehash of typical mises.org thought, but this one is unusually bad. A single obese man is not evidence prima facie of an "epidemic," and the ADA hardly complicates business laws, as you have shown. Small business owners are not axing their business plans because of crippling ADA laws.

      Nor will the free market advocate for disability rights in the absence of government regulation. This is precisely why the ADA was enacted in the first place — tons of places lacked reasonable accommodation for the handicapped and other disabled people, and their slim numbers were not enough to change the practice of most businesses. It simply required government intervention, and the world is a much more accessible place because of it. If, hypothetically, some small business owner had to scratch his head so that the blind, wheelchair-bound, deaf or some other disabled population could navigate his business freely and without possible pain and suffering, then let him scratch.

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