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California Pool Hall Would Rather Close Than Become ADA-Compliant

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public accommodations must provide reasonable modifications in their policies, or procedures for those with disabilities and remove structural, architectural, and communication barriers when such removal is “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty and expense.” The Act also allows a private person to bring a lawsuit to enforce these requirements. And while increasing access for disabled persons is essential, even the best intentions can be manipulated for personal gain. That’s what Mike Murphy, owner of Jointed Cue Billiards in Sacramento, California, thinks is happening. The pool hall was sued by Scott Johnson, a quadriplegic attorney who claims the location is not ADA-compliant. Rather than upgrade the facilities or settle with Johnson, however, Murphy is closing the 50-year-old pool hall down. No Benefit to the Disabled Community “He’s using that as an advantage to benefit himself,” Murphy told the Sacramento Bee. “Nothing this guy ever does is to benefit the disabled community. He’s using (the law) to benefit himself.” According to the paper, Johnson is listed as a plaintiff in over 2,000 federal ADA lawsuits — all filed in the same district that includes Sacramento — and routinely settles with defendants out of court for $4,000 to $6,000. His attorney Russell Handy, however, pushed back on Murphy’s characterizations: “The fact that the ADA was passed 28 years ago and that businesses still flagrantly violate the law is frustrating to him and many persons who use wheelchairs for mobility,” Handy said. “As for making money for himself — Mr. Johnson has never stated this as a primary motivation but I cannot help but believe that it is gratifying to Mr. Johnson that he is compensated for his effort and for the infringement upon his civil rights.” Murphy also claims that, while many disabled persons — including those in wheelchairs — have been able to access the pool hall facilities, Johnson has never been one of them. Handy alleges that Johnson has eaten lunch at the attached restaurant. Not Getting Anything So why not just bring the Jointed Cue up to code?…

Can You Ban Workers From Wearing Political Messages at Work?

You want to foster an environment at your small business where all of your employees and customers feel comfortable. But political conversations, especially in the current climate, have the potential to cause some civil unrest in the office. And when those conversations center around the minimum wage and the right to unionize, they can get especially uncomfortable for workers and management. In-N-Out thought it had the right idea when it invoked a blanket ban on “any type of pin or stickers” to prohibit employees at an Austin location from wearing “Fight for $15” buttons in solidarity with a nationwide campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage, the right to form a union without intimidation, and other improvements for low-wage workers. But the company went too far, according to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. So, what does that mean for you and your small business? Put a Pin in It The National Labor Relations Board protects certain speech at work, especially in relation to labor conditions and unionization. The Board found In-N-Out violated employees’ free speech rights by asking employees to remove their “Fight for $15” buttons, and ordered the company to cease and desist from: “Maintaining and enforcing a rule that prohibits employees from wearing, while on duty, any button or insignia apart from those it has approved, and that makes no exception for buttons or insignia pertaining to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment or union or other protected activities”; “Directing employees to remove from their clothing any button or insignia pertaining to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment or union or other protected activities”; and “Directing employees that they may not wear any [such] button[s] or insignia.” In-N-Out appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit, but that court agreed with the NLRB, finding Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act “protects the right of employees to wear items — such as buttons, pins, and stickers — relating to terms and conditions of employment (including wages and hours), unionization, and other protected matters.” Pinned Down? To be clear, the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t…

Is There a Religious Exemption for Employee Healthcare Coverage?

While most small businesses aren’t required to provide healthcare benefits to their employees, many choose to do so in order to attract and retain the best employees. However, even if you don’t need to offer health insurance to your employees, once you do, federal law prohibits you from discriminating in your health benefits coverage based on an employee or dependent’s gender, race, age, national origin, religion, or disability, and many states and local municipalities also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But what if some of the healthcare choices made by your employees conflict with your religious beliefs? Could you end up paying for care and procedures you don’t agree with? Or are there religious exemptions to your employees’ health care benefits? Closely Held, Sincerely Held In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that, even under Obamacare, some employers were not required to provide post-conception contraception to employees. The decision was limited to “closely held corporations” which are each owned by a single person or family, whose “sincerely held religious beliefs” are opposed to certain types of contraception that they believe cause abortions, even though the Affordable Care Act contained a contraception mandate requiring employers’ healthcare plans to cover those costs. Given the Trump administration’s attacks on the ACA, coupled with its addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch and possible addition of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, many women’s rights groups are wondering whether that exemption could be extended to more corporations, companies, and small businesses, and LGBTQ groups wondering whether the rationale for denying certain contraceptive care could be extended to healthcare services for transgender employees. Pre-Existing Conditions and Rights Currently, the Affordable Care Act bans healthcare providers from considering being transgender as a pre-existing condition. Previously, transgender people could be denied health insurance simply because they were transgender. So, as it stands, employers who are required to provide health benefits to their employees can’t discriminate in coverage for LGTBQ employees, even for religious reasons. But that could all change, depending on new court cases and state statutes. To learn more about your rights and responsibilities as a…

Papa John v. Papa John’s: Founder and Ousted CEO Sues Company

Former Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is suing the pizza chain he founded following his ouster last month. Schnatter had already stepped down as CEO in January, after blaming poor sales on the NFL for not adequately responding to player protests during the national anthem. Then, while on a July conference call with a public relations firm hired to help the company refurbish its image, Schnatter complained, “Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s and Sanders never faced public outcry.” The PR firm quickly terminated the contract, Schnatter was removed as chairman of Papa John’s board, and he also stepped down from the University of Louisville’s board of trustees. Now the man suing his former company, walking back his admission to using a racial slur, alleging he was ousted in a “heavy-handed way,” and claiming that his replacement is not the right man for CEO. So, in honor of Schnatter’s current legal battle with Papa John’s, here’s a roundup of some of the company’s prior litigation. 1. Papa John’s Receipt Fiasco: When a Company’s Racist Act Goes Viral Back in 2012, a Papa John’s store employee typed out a customer’s name was “lady chinky eyes” on her receipt. That customer, communications manager for an investigative journalism non-profit Minhee Cho, tweeted a picture of the offending receipt. And although Cho declined to file a lawsuit, the company apologized on Twitter and the store owner terminated the employee and conducted sensitivity trainings. 2. Papa John’s Lawsuit Seeks $250M for Spam Texts Later that same year, Papa John’s did get sued — not for racist messages on receipts, but for dozens of unsolicited text messages containing pizza promotions. A few enterprising franchise owners employed a third-party messaging service to spam former customers with a stream of offers, often in the middle of the night, and all without their consent, making the texts a violation of federal law. 3. Papa John’s Racist Voicemail Spurs CEO Apology It turns out Schnatter wasn’t the only one casually dropping the N-word around the office. The former CEO had to issue an apology after a delivery driver accidentally butt-dialed a…

Can Your Business Ban Racist Customers?

Last week, Khalil Cavil, a 20-year-old server for Saltgrass Steak House in Odessa, Texas, posted a photo of a receipt on Facebook that read “We don’t Tip Terrorist” with no tip included and his name circled at the top. Cavil opined, “All day I’ve had to remind myself that Jesus died for these people too. I have decided to let this encourage me, and fuel me to change the world the only way I know how.” And Saltgrass Steak House banned the customer involved. Only it turns out that Cavil fabricated the racist message, and the customer has since been welcomed back. “Racism of any form is intolerable, and we will always act swiftly should it occur in any of our establishments,” Saltgrass COO Terry Turney said in a statement. “Falsely accusing someone of racism is equaling disturbing.” Still, the question remains: Can businesses legally ban racist customers? Reserving the Right to Refuse Racists If you don’t already have one posted in your small business, you’ve probably seen the signs in someone else’s shop: “We reserve the right to refuse service.” But is that even legal? The answer depends on why you’re refusing service. Generally, dress codes and shirt and shoe requirements are enforceable, even if there are no federal or state laws requiring patrons wear footwear. And, of course, non-paying, employee-harassing, or disturbance-causing customers can be banned for bad behavior. But prohibiting paying customers from your business based on their beliefs can put you on trickier ground. Federal law makes it illegal to refuse service based on race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin, and many states have extended those protections to homosexual and transgender customers. So public accommodations have a hard time banning customers for who they are — can they ban them for what they think? Banning Behavior, Not Beliefs Banning customers, even racists, Nazis, or the KKK, for their beliefs can put you on shaky ground, legally speaking. The First Amendment provides protections for speech, association, and assembly in places that are open to the public. So instead of banning large groups based on…

Baltimore Bans Sodas, Sugary Drinks on Kids’ Menus

‘Taking out empty calories from sugary drinks is a powerful lifestyle change we can make to help our children to get and stay healthy,’ according to Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. ‘This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice.’ The law to which Dr. Wen is referring is Baltimore’s new ordinance that prohibits sodas and sugary drinks from appearing on kids’ menus in city restaurants. Children can still consume sodas under the new law, but only if parents order it for them. Similar laws in other cities and states have had a mixed reception, legally speaking. So, will Baltimore’s soda ban stick? Menu Mandates Instead of soda, the default beverages for kids’ meals must be milk, 100 percent fruit juices, water, and flavored or sparkling water without added sweeteners. Baltimore eateries face a $100 fine if they fail to comply with the ordinance. One in three school-aged kids in Baltimore is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and Sugar Free Kids Maryland reports that one in four of the city’s children drink at least one soda each day. Overconsumption of sugary drinks has been cited as a key factor in the development of chronic diseases like diabetes. Soda and Sugar Statutes While seven California cities and Lafayette, Colorado, have enacted similar soda bans, other efforts to curb sugary drink intake have been less successful. New York City’s ban on supersized sugary drinks, which prohibited large sodas from being sold in restaurants, fast food joints, and movie theaters, was struck down as unconstitutional by a state appellate court in 2013. The court found that the New York City Board of Health had overreached in its official capacity by limiting sugary drinks to 16 ounces. While the Board can issue regulations to promote the general health concerns, the court felt the drink ban was too much like a law, the creation of which is reserved for the legislature. Likewise, San Francisco’s ordinance requiring warning labels on soda advertisements was struck down last year, with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling the ordinance violated beverage…

How to Start a 3D Printing Business: 3 Legal FAQ

As 3D printers become better and more affordable (there are quite a few models under $500), more and more entrepreneurs become interested in how they can contribute to their small businesses or provide avenues for brand new businesses altogether. Being able to manufacture products without the same staff, machinery, and space requirements opens all new avenues of productivity and profit. But those possibilities don’t come without risk, especially of the legal variety. Just because you can 3D print something doesn’t mean you should, and definitely doesn’t mean you won’t get sued for it, or worse. So here are three big legal questions about the 3D printing business for you to consider, before you print yourself a lawsuit. 1. Who Owns the Copyrights? In a recent Supreme Court decision regarding some 3D-printed decorations on cheerleader uniforms, the Court made an important distinction: Clothing and other useful articles are not subject to copyright protection; artistic works and designs are. Therefore, uniform designs cannot be copyrighted, but decorations on them can be. And while the difference between the two may be obvious in the cheerleader uniform realm (Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “To be clear, the only feature of the cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright in this case is the two-dimensional work of art fixed in the tangible medium of the uniform fabric”), that distinction may not be as clear with other works. Like, say, a bird’s nest-shaped egg holder. As Justice Breyer wrote in dissent: “Indeed, great industrial design may well include design that is inseparable from the useful article-where, as Frank Lloyd Wright put it, ‘form and function are one.'” 2. Is It Illegal to Print? While the world of 3D printing is largely unregulated at this point, there are some items that are obviously off limits. You’d think guns would be one of them, but think again. Bombs and some types of assault rifles are banned, and some states may require registration of a completed gun made of 3D-printed parts. But most of the pieces, at least at this point, are fair game. Also, if someone else has the patent…

Are Your Summer Policies ADA-Friendly?

Small businesses often switch things up over the summer. You might open up a patio, add some outdoor seating, or sponsor or host some outdoor events. You may also be a small business — like a camp — that functions primarily in the summer. Either way, your business must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility year-round. So how can you make sure you’re ADA-compliant this summer? Here are a few keys to consider. Sunny Seats and Airy Aisles Whether your seating is indoors or outdoors, there are strict ADA guidelines on tables and aisles to provide space and accessibility for patrons with disabilities. When serving customers, five percent of fixed seating and tables must be accessible, and the “same requirements apply to fixed tables in outdoor areas such as picnic areas, playgrounds or patios.” According to the Small Business Administration and Justice Department: An accessible table has a surface height of no more than 34 inches and no less than 28 inches above the floor. At least 27 inches of knee clearance must be provided between the floor and the underside of the table. An accessible route provides access to each accessible table and a clear floor area 30 inches by 48 inches is provided at each accessible seating location. This clear floor area extends 19 inches under the table to provide leg and knee clearance. The DOJ also provides standards for accessible design for outdoor restrooms. Outdoor Gatherings If you’re hosting a summer-specific outdoor event, like a concert, movie, or sporting event, the ADA requires that wheelchair spaces and companion seats be dispersed to all levels that include seating served by an accessible route. Additionally, outdoor assembly areas are required to horizontally disperse wheelchair spaces and companion seats and have seating encircling a field of play or performance area must also disperse wheelchair spaces and companion seats around that field of play or performance area. And wheelchair spaces and companion seats are not permitted on temporary platforms or other movable structures, unless fixed seating is not provided and an entire seating section is placed on temporary…

You Can’t Make Yelp Delete Those Negative Reviews

Nobody likes a bad Yelp review. And small businesses definitely don’t like a defamatory Yelp review. And a small law firm faced with a defamatory Yelp review is probably gonna sue. That’s what Dawn Hassell of the Hassell Law Group did in response to a Yelp review that claimed Hassell agreed to represent an injured client, “then reneged on the case because her mom had a broken leg, or something like that, and that the insurance company was too much for her to handle,” adding, “you can find a competent attorney, but this wont [sic] be one of them.” And while Hassell won a default judgment against her former client, an order requiring Yelp to remove the review was just overturned by the California Supreme Court. Immunity Boost Yelp, very notably, was not included in the lawsuit. As the California Supreme Court put it: “Plaintiffs anticipated that if they added Yelp as a defendant and integrated the company into the action at that time, Yelp could respond by asserting immunity under section 230.” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides some immunity for internet service providers from legal liability based on third-party content on the site. In this case, it was Section 230 to Yelp’s rescue again. “In directing Yelp to remove the challenged reviews from its website,” the court ruled, “the removal order improperly treats Yelp as ‘the publisher or speaker of … information provided by another information content provider.” As such, the company could not be required to remove the review. Alternative Remedies Yelp, and several other internet companies, are obviously treating the decision as a big victory. “With this decision,” wrote Yelp’s deputy general counsel Aaron Schur, “online publishers in California can be assured that they cannot be lawfully forced to remove third-party speech through enterprising abuses of the legal system, and those of us that use such platforms to express ourselves cannot be easily silenced through such tactics either.” The ruling will be less welcome to small business owners targeted by defamatory negative reviews aimed at financially impacting or even ending their companies. In most…

World Cup Betting Pools: Can Your Office Have One?

Wondering why half your staff is rolling in a little late in the morning, or still hasn’t come back from lunch? Noticing a slight dip in production while your employees are working? Does it feel like half your team is happy and the other half sad, or do some workers feel distracted — zoning out with a far-off look in their eye and perhaps muttering to themselves in a foreign language? Is the word “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL” echoing through your office corridors? It’s the World Cup — the most watched sporting spectacle in the world. And this year’s chaotic tournament has left some fans ecstatic and others a bit shell-shocked, as you might’ve seen around the office. You might’ve even heard some water cooler talk about a betting pool, and whose teams are out and whose are still in. And even if the banter is all good-natured and fun, are World Cup betting pools a good idea in your office? Are they even legal? The Feds and Footie Bets You may have noticed recently that the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports gambling. So, does that give your employee free reign to gamble on the World Cup? Not necessarily. While the federal prohibition has been removed, that doesn’t mean that states (other than Nevada) have legalized it yet. State Laws on Soccer Betting State gambling laws can vary. And while casinos and other gambling-specific business may be illegal, your state may allow so-called “social gambling.” As an example, Hawai’i defines social gambling as betting in which: No player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, other than the player’s personal gambling winnings; No other person, corporation, unincorporated association, or entity receives or becomes entitled to receive anything of value or any profit, directly or indirectly, from any source, including but not limited to permitting the use of premises, supplying refreshments, food, drinks, service, lodging or entertainment; and It is not conducted or played in or at a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, cocktail lounge, restaurant, massage parlor, billiard parlor, or any business…

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