U.S. Attorney’s Office Files Lawsuit Against the Chicago Cubs Alleging ADA Violations in Wrigley Field Renovation (UPDATE)

About three years ago, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois initiated a review of the renovations at Wrigley Field to ensure they complied with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Chicago Cubs, by way of a lawyer’s letter to the judge involved at the time, said that complying with the ADA is “of critical importance to the Cubs, as is ensuring the accessibility to all fans to Wrigley Field, a historic and aging ballpark with a limited physical footprint.”

In other words, the Cubs were indicating that they want to comply with the laws to accommodate all fans, but it’s a little more challenging to do it at a very old ballpark with very cozy confines. Nevertheless, ensuring access for all fans should take the highest priority, even if difficult and expensive.

Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed suit against the Cubs, alleging noncompliance with the ADA. It seems their review over the past few years revealed that, in their view, the renovation work did not satisfy the law’s requirements. So they are turning to the courts for relief:

There are more details in the Tribune report, as well as in a Sun-Times report, and there will assuredly be a response from the Cubs forthcoming (SEE UPDATE BELOW). Very generally speaking, the allegations seem to center on the ability of fans with disabilities to have access to the same quality seats, amenities, and lines of sight as other fans. (The full complaint is available here.)

Again, we’ll see how the Cubs respond, both in a legal sense and in terms of public statements.

This could go a number of ways, from a dismissal (depending on the legal arguments), to a financial settlement, to a structural settlement (i.e., work done to address the issues), to a combination of those settlements, or it could proceed to a trial. The latter is highly unlikely in these types of cases, and boy would it bring the kind of negative attention you’d think the Cubs would be desperate to avoid.

To that point, the filing of the lawsuit at all is going to bring plenty of negative attention. I am going to reserve my full reaction until there is a little more information available. I haven’t been a lawyer for a long time, but I do remember the experience well enough to know that these situations almost always feature arguments on both sides that register as reasonable. If you’re looking for a clear, obvious, Absolute Truth to emerge from these proceedings, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

I will say this. As the parent of a child with disabilities, nobody should shrug this kind of thing off entirely. These laws, imperfect though they may be, exist for a reason: to protect the health and happiness of those who might otherwise not be able to protect for themselves those things in all situations. I don’t doubt that the Cubs want to accommodate all fans as well as they realistically can within the confines of Wrigley Field, but sometimes these situations raise difficult countervailing interests. They tend not to be simple situations with obvious answers. I suppose we’ll just see how this situation resolves itself.

UPDATE: Chicago Cubs Senior VP of Communications Julian Green corresponded with the Tribune:

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said in an emailed statement the team had been cooperating with the federal probe and was “disappointed” with the Justice Department’s decision to sue.

“(We) hope the matter can be resolved amicably, but we will defend Wrigley Field and our position it meets accessibility requirements for fans,” the statement read. “The renovation of Wrigley Field greatly increased accessibility of the ballpark and was completed in accordance with applicable law and historic preservation standards consistent with the ballpark’s designation as a National and City of Chicago landmark.”

In response to the federal inquiry, Green said, the Cubs have “made several offers to voluntarily further enhance accessible features of the ballpark, including seating, restrooms, concessions and other key accessibility elements.”

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Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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