At least eight times over the last 19 years, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s properties have been subject to lawsuits for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, court records show. Additionally, a federal inspection found ADA violations at one of his properties.
Only once did Trump come close to winning, in a suit that was dismissed at the request of both sides. Five of the cases were settled, while two ended in consent decrees requiring building modifications and one met its end in a Trump property bankruptcy.
When a disabled Purple Heart veteran filed a lawsuit in 2004 alleging that the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York lacked proper handicapped-accessible emergency exits, guest rooms and restrooms, Trump dragged the case out for three years. He tried to get the lawsuit dismissed and counter-sued his own architects to try and shift liability to them, but a judge dismissed that attempt. Trump eventually settled and agreed to make changes to the hotel.
“What was so striking and frankly appalling was the way he tried to fight [the violations],” said Helena Berger, the president and CEO of the nonprofit American Association of People with Disabilities. “That, I think, is really telling.”
What was so striking and frankly appalling was the way he tried to fight [the violations]. Helena Berger, American Association of People with Disabilities.
Still, after Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with arthrogryposis last November, the reality TV star defended himself by pointing out how much money he’d spent on accessibility in his hotels. “I spend millions a year, or millions of dollars on ramps,” he said in July, “and get rid of the stairs and different kinds of elevators all over and I’m gonna mock? I would never do that.”
Spending that money is a legal requirement: The Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, requires that buildings and spaces used by the public meet specific disability access standards.
“It is the policy at all of our properties to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Christine Da Silva, a Trump Hotels spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post. “This handful of cases, many of which are over ten years old, are not representative of our organization’s strong record of ADA compliance.”
Still, the cases do show that Trump has, at times, been less than enthusiastic about spending money to bring his buildings into compliance with federal law.
For example, in 2001, two wheelchair users alleged that the wheelchair lift at Trump International was kept locked, and the employee who eventually unlocked it couldn’t operate it. In court records, one of the plaintiffs, Robert Levine, said the experience made him feel like a “second class citizen.” The other plaintiff, Frieda Zames, said it was like being a “grade school child asking permission to go to the restroom.”
As in the 2004 lawsuit, after a judge denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the case, Trump counter-sued his architect to try to shift liability. Trump “amicably settled” the 2001 case in 2009, when both he and the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the complaint.
Emily Munson, a disability rights lawyer, told HuffPost that she understands the building owner’s perspective in ADA cases. The requirements are exhaustive and violations can be very technical, compared to more substantive problems, Munson said. “On the other hand,” she added, “businesses have had over a quarter century to come into compliance with the ADA.”
Trump, she said, “clearly sees people with disabilities as sick or in need of charity and pity, rather than people with rights who deserve to be out and about and accessing the community.”
Trump "clearly sees people with disabilities as sick or in need of charity and pity, rather than people with rights who deserve to be out and about and accessing the community.” Disability rights lawyer Emily Munson
Trump’s Atlantic City Plaza Hotel has also come under fire for its basic and serious deficiencies in accessibility. In a 1997 suit, James Conlon, who is paraplegic, said that even though he stayed in a designated handicapped-accessible room at the hotel, the toilets and showers were unusable for someone in a wheelchair, and the public restrooms were so inaccessible that he had to ask strangers to help him use them.
Trump settled the case a year later, agreeing to pay Conlon’s legal fees and renovate the hotels rooms and public restrooms to comply with federal law. But a year after that, Conlon told the judge in the case that the renovations Trump had agreed to hadn’t been done.
Two additional complaints were brought against the Plaza Hotel in 2007 and 2008. The plaintiffs in the former agreed to dismiss the case, and the latter case was terminated by Trump’s company’s 2009 bankruptcy.
Conlon also brought a case in 2003 alleging that the bus between New York and the Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino wasn’t accessible and that wheelchair access could only be provided with one week’s notice. Trump tried counter-suing the bus provider, but eventually settled Conlon’s case.
Another Trump hotel in Atlantic City, the Trump Taj Mahal, settled with the Department of Justice in 2011 after an inspection by the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed numerous violations, including not posting signs on some disabled parking spots.
But the cases aren’t limited to Trump’s tri-state area properties. In 2011, a guest at the Trump International Miami ― which the reality star doesn’t own but licenses his name to ― alleged that his designated accessible room had accessibility problems. The case was confidentially settled.
And in response to a lawsuit in 2014, the Trump National Doral Miami golf course said making its pool accessible to disabled users would be “impose an undue burden.” Trump and the plaintiff agreed to enter into a consent decree four months after the suit was filed.