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PIZZA OUTLET SUED OVER ACCESS FOR THE DISABLED

Aug. 8, 2003 – A popular restaurant on St. Croix has been smacked with a lawsuit for allegedly failing to comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act .
On Tuesday, Virgin Islands Advocacy Inc. filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Pizza Hut in Ville La Reine and its parent company, Trigon Restaurants. The suit, filed in District Court, seeks enforcement of the ADA, which was passed by Congress in 1990.
V.I. Advocacy is a watchdog group for the territory's disabled community. Last February, the group filed similar lawsuits against The Green House Bar and Restaurant on St. Thomas and the Barren Spot Mall on St. Croix seeking to force them to make their facilities accessible to the disabled. (See "2 lawsuits allege disability act non-compliance".) Those lawsuits are still pending.
The Pizza Hut in Ville La Reine has been a sore spot for people with disabilities for years, according to V.I. Advocacy's executive director, Amelia Headley LaMont.
"They do have a ramp, but people with disabilities can't get to it — at least they can't get to it without assistance," LaMont said. "They also have a bathroom that is inaccessible for people with disabilities."
LaMont said V.I. Advocacy met with the management of the Pizza Hut more than a year ago, and "they told us they were aware of it and had plans to do something to correct it. But nothing was done." She added: "Sometimes it takes a lawsuit to force compliance with the law."
When contacted Friday for a response to the allegations, Julia Noelle, manager of the Ville La Reine Pizza Hut, would say only that "we have no comment on that."
One wheelchair-bound St. Croix resident says the Ville La Reine Pizza Hut management has known about the problem for two years, but has never done anything.
"We even talked to the Pizza Hut officials in Puerto Rico and asked for a ramp that we can use," Mark Vinzant said. "They have a ramp that leads to the door, but in order to get to the ramp there is a curb there. I mean, it's nice to have a ramp and all, but if you can't get to it, it's of no use."
Vinzant said it has been a slow process for many businesses in the Virgin Islands to comply with the ADA, which states in part that public places such as restaurants, bars and stores may not discriminate against customers on the basis of disability.
"The ADA has no enforcement unless a person with a disability files a complaint," Vinzant said. "It is a civil right."
He added: "The biggest problem we have had is with the government, which passed a law in 1978 that streets and sidewalks would be accessible to people with disabilities. And for those of us with disabilities who live in the Virgin Islands, it is very difficult. All we're trying to do is to make the Virgin Islands accessible to all — both for those of us who live here and for our visitors."

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