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Judge: Man can sue McDonald's for not allowing legally blind to order late night food at drive-thru on foot

By Jonathan Bilyk | Feb 21, 2017

Law money 10

A blind man has been cleared to continue a class action vs McDonald’s, alleging the world’s leading purveyor of fast food discriminates against those with visual disabilities and others who cannot drive by leaving only their drive-thru lanes open for service late at night, and declining to serve anyone who is not in a car.

On Feb. 15, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall filed an order, rejecting the request from McDonald’s to dismiss the lawsuit, and declaring her belief plaintiff Scott Magee may have a legitimate beef with the company, and legal standing to sue at least one McDonald’s restaurant under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The order comes almost eight months since Magee, of Metairie, La., filed suit in Chicago federal court against the Oak Brook-based fast food franchiser.

In that lawsuit, filed in May 2016, Magee alleged “systemic civil rights violations by McDonald’s against blind persons in the United States … denying blind individuals equal access to the goods and services they provide during ‘late-night’ hours at thousands of restaurants.”

The complaint centered on McDonald’s practice of keeping the drive-thru windows of its restaurants open late into the night – sometimes for 24 hours – even though the rest of the restaurant may be closed to the public.

Because the restaurants refuse to serve anyone at the drive-thru windows who are not in an automobile, the late-night window service amounts to discrimination against the blind, as they must find someone else to drive them through the drive-thru lanes, if they wish to purchase food from McDonald’s during the late-night service period.

“Because McDonald’s does not permit pedestrians to order from its drive-thru windows, the blind are totally precluded from accessing Defendant’s products during late night hours,” the complaint said.

In the complaint, Magee alleged he was denied service when he attempted to walk up to a McDonald’s drive thru in his hometown on an evening in 2015.

“The McDonald’s personnel therein refused service to him, laughed, and told him to go away,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint said he has “suffered this experience at other McDonald’s restaurants in the past.”

Magee asserted McDonald’s could fix the problem with “a variety of modest accommodations.”

The lawsuit seeks to expand the action to include all people with visual disabilities who have been denied service at drive-thru windows at any of McDonald’s more than 14,000 restaurants across the country. Magee also sought to create special class of plaintiffs suing under California state law, asserting in an amended complaint he was also denied service at drive-thru windows at McDonald’s restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland.

In response to the lawsuit, McDonald’s asked the court to dismiss the action, arguing Magee wasn’t treated any differently than any other potential customer, as all customers – whether they can legally operate a car or not – must be in an automobile to receive service at McDonald’s drive-thru window after hours.

Further, McDonald’s argued Magee may be able to sue the restaurant in his hometown, but not every restaurant throughout the U.S. And McDonald’s asserted the court should block Magee from suing under California law, because they alleged Magee visited those California restaurants after he had already filed his original lawsuit.

Judge Gottschall brushed aside McDonald’s objections regarding the timing of Magee’s California-specific allegations, saying she believed Magee had been denied service at the Golden State restaurants before the original lawsuit.

But the judge said Magee should still not be allowed to sue under California law, because, while he frequents his hometown restaurant, he had only been denied service at the San Francisco and Oakland locations once, and would not be likely to return to those establishments.

Gottschall, however, declined to shut down Magee’s nationwide class action, saying she believed he may have a case that McDonald’s policies, without accommodations for the legally blind, could constitute discrimination. And she said arguments on whether Magee could adequately represent all potential claimants across the country should be decided down the road.

“Defendant argues that Magee must have standing in order to represent a class. This is true,” the judge said. “But Magee has standing as to one McDonald’s restaurant - the one in Metairie - and the question therefore becomes whether his standing as to one restaurant allows him to bring a class action as to restaurants where he does not have standing.”

Magee is represented in the action by attorneys Roberto Luis Costales and William H. Beaumont, each of New Orleans.

McDonald’s is defended by attorneys with the firm of Holland & Knight, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Holland & KnightMcDonald's CorporationRoberto Luis Costales Law OfficeWilliam H. Beaumont Law