In a case of first impression, a federal court in Maryland ruled
that Title III of the ADA required the Redskins to provide deaf and
hard of hearing football fans full and equal access to the
information broadcast over the public address system at FedEx
Field, which includes: music with lyrics, play information,
advertisements, referee calls, safety/emergency information and
other announcements. Feldman v. Pro Football, Inc., No.
AW-06-2266 (D.Md. Sept. 30, 2008). In so doing, the court rejected
the Redskins' argument that the only integral information is
the game being played, which can be understood by deaf and hard of
hearing fans by watching the game. Instead, the court found that
the aural information that the Redskins provided to its hearing
fans was done so for a reason. Therefore, equal access to this
information could not be denied.
Should other courts agree with this conclusion, stadiums will be
required to provide captioning for:
announcements to cheer;
announcements of the type of play, names of key players, the
number of yards gained or lost, etc.;
information on the two-minute warning and when the quarter,
half or game has ended;
the referee's explanation of penalties;
advertisements and public service announcements;
out-of-town score announcements; and
concourse level televisions.
Significantly, all of the foregoing were provided by the
Redskins after the suit was filed but before the court issued its
decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. As a result, the
court was satisfied that there was no indication that the Redskins
intended to stop captioning and, therefore, did not issue an
injunction with respect to the captioning already in effect. The
court's ruling left three issues open for future action.
First, the court did side with the plaintiffs on one unresolved
complaint and directed the Redskins to ensure that some lyrics were
effectively communicated to deaf and hard of hearing fans. However,
the court left open how this would be provided.
Second, the court left open the plaintiffs' claim that
captioning on ribbon boards at midfield was insufficient because
the plaintiffs could not simultaneously read the captioning and
view video on the Jumbo Trons in the end zones. As to this
"line of sight" issue, the court believed that there were
disputed issues of fact that precluded summary judgment.
Third, also left open was the plaintiffs' claim that the
Redskins violated Title III because they did not caption the audio
feed of the local radio station that was broadcast in the concourse
area of the stadium. According to the court, this claim was not
covered by the complaint because it did not mention radio
broadcasts at all.
Assuming that the Redskins decision was correctly decided,
stadiums and arenas around the country will need to provide
captioning for information and announcements made on the public
address system. Those who choose not to make that assumption and do
not provide captioning can expect copy-cat lawsuits. The
Redskins' efforts over the two-year period while the case was
pending avoided an injunction and, subject to a subsequent decision
by the court, possibly attorney's fees. In subsequent lawsuits
elsewhere, if the plaintiff moves for summary judgment prior to the
implementation of the captioning, an injunction and attorney's
fees will be more difficult to avoid.
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