CHICAGO (CN) — A bench trial over the Chicago Cubs' alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations concluded Monday afternoon, one week after it began, with a ruling expected by next week.
A Cubs fan with muscular dystrophy named David F. Cerda first filed the ADA suit in 2017, accusing the 120-year-old baseball organization of not providing enough wheelchair-accessible general seating at Wrigley Field. The stadium has several ADA seating zones, but the plaintiff's attorney and father David A. Cerda alleged these zones are either segregated from other general seating areas, too small to accomadate wheelchair maneuvering, or positioned in areas with severely obstructed views of the field.
Per photos of the extant ADA seats that Cerda Sr. provided at trial, some seats along the first and third base lines have such a poor view of the field that fans are provided with TV screens to watch instead. Another ADA seating area behind the central outfield is set into a covered alcove and surrounded by chain link fences.
"What does that tell [fans with disabilities]?" the attorney argued. "That they're not to be seen, they're not to be heard."
Accessibility has always been an issue at Wrigley Field, a century-old and relatively small baseball stadium on Chicago's North Side. But the Cerdas argued recent renovations to Wrigley, known collectively as the 1060 Project, exacerbated the issue. Cerda Sr. pointed out at trial that a few well-positioned ADA seating areas were demolished during the five-year renovation project, which concluded in 2019, in order to make room for bars and other luxury amenities.
The Cubs and Cerdas agreed when the trial began that Wrigley Field needs at least 209 evenly dispersed wheelchair seats in order to be in compliance with the ADA. The Cubs' defense team claimed at the start of trial that the stadium has 225 such seats, including dozens added during the 1060 Project renovations. But Cerda Sr. argued Monday that 116 of them were impermissible under ADA regulations for various reasons.
"They have more non-compliant seats than compliant seats," he said.
The Cerdas are not the only ones to think so. Federal prosecutors under former U.S. Attorney John Lausch filed a similar suit against the Cubs last July, following a 2019 investigation into Wrigley Field's post-renovation layout. Cerda Sr. said that he had provided his "own thoughts" on Wrigley Field's accessibility to U.S. attorneys since last year, but is otherwise uninvolved with the case. The federal suit is even more damning than Cerda's, claiming Wrigley now only has 44 ADA-compliant grandstand aisle wheelchair seats.
The Cubs' attorney Donna Welch conversely said Monday that Wrigley Field is now more welcoming to fans with disabilities than ever before, repeating the argument that the 1060 Project renovations improved accessibility "ten-fold." She accused the Cerdas of falsely portraying the ADA as a mandate that disabled fans should get the best seats in the house, rather than an assurance that their experience would be similar to that of able-bodied fans.
"Plaintiffs' complaint is with what ADA guidelines do and don't require," Welch argued.
Cerda Jr. not being able to watch the game from his preferred seat did not constitute an ADA violation, she said, and neither did obstructions that also blocked able-bodied fans' view of the field.
"That's just what it means to take in a game at Wrigley Field," Welch said.
She also argued that the Cubs' accessibility considerations did not end with wheelchair-bound fans like Cerda Jr. The organization also has to account for fans with sensory issues, mental disabilities, skin conditions and other concerns. Some of these fans, Welch said, would want the choice of sitting somewhere out of the sun or removed from the commotion of the crowd.
"Today there are more accessible seating options for fans than ever before," she argued, saying the Cubs' architects were "thoughtful" about ADA seating placement in Wrigley Field amid the renovations.
"We agree the Cubs were thoughtful in placing their disability seats. They deliberately put them in the worst spots," Cerda Sr. said during his rebuttal.
The weeklong bench trial featured testimony from the Cubs' vice president of operations, Patrick Meenan, and its senior director of ticket operations, Anuj Patel. Presiding U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso, a Barack Obama appointee, also took a field trip to Wrigley Field last week to inspect the stadium for himself.
As a bench trial, Alonso will decide the outcome of the case in lieu of a jury. He told attorneys to expect his ruling electronically by next Monday, April 24.Follow @@djbyrnes1
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