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Mom in wheelchair loses ADA access appeal against school district

November 6, 2018

A Warrick County woman who uses a wheelchair and was unable to attend her son’s school Christmas concert two years in a row lost her argument of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act after it was determined the concert was not provided by the school corporation.

Mycal Ashby has transverse myelitis, a condition that renders her paralyzed from the chest down. She cannot stand or walk and relies on a motorized wheelchair for mobility. Ashby’s son attended Loge Elementary School in Boonville and participated in an extracurricular choir offered by the school during the 2014 and 2015 school years.  

Both years, the choir performed a Christmas concert at the Warrick County Museum, a building with no elevator or ramp for wheelchair accessibility. In 2014, upon arriving for the concert with her husband and son, Ashby realized there was no access and could not enter the building.

The following year, arrangements were made to install an elevator at the museum in time for the 2015 Christmas concert. However, despite the assurances that she had received that she would be able to get in the building, the concert was inaccessible to Ashby as no elevator had been installed.

Ashby, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, filed a federal discrimination suit. She sought compensatory damages for intentional disability discrimination under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, alleging that the Warrick School Corporation had violated both statutes by allowing the choir to perform at a building that was inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Both parties filed for summary judgment, and the district court ultimately ruled in favor of the school corporation when it found that the concert was not an activity “of” the school corporation. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals similarly affirmed the district court’s decision in Mycal L. Ashby v. Warrick County School Corp., 18-1371.

Based on an amicus brief filed by the Department of Justice per request, the 7th Circuit found that there was a “loose framework” to work with in making its decision. It looked to a spectrum provided by the Department for its answer, resolving that “the public entity does not engage in a joint endeavor with the private entity, but instead participates in an event of the private entity.”

“Having undertaken such an examination, we agree with our colleague in the district court that there is no dispute about a material issue of fact. It is also clear, even when we construe those facts in the light most favorable to Ms. Ashby, that the event was part of the museum’s own programming,” Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote for the court.

“Here, the district court properly understood the statutory and regulatory command and properly determined that the event, organized, sponsored, and maintained by the private museum, was not subject to the strictures of the statutes,” Ripple continued.  “The children of the School Corporation participated solely as the invitees of the museum. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court must be affirmed.”

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