Minnesota legislature

Bill to curb 'abusive' ADA suits advances

Legislation aimed at curbing "abusive" lawsuits under state disability laws, while encouraging businesses to provide full access to disabled customers, passed its first committee hearing earlier this month in the Minnesota House.

The bill was approved by the House Civil Law Committee on a bipartisan vote. A companion measure is headed for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee in April.

The legislation has support from business and agencies representing the disabled.

Over the past three years, attorney Paul Hansmeier has filed more than 100 lawsuits against Minnesota businesses and landlords, alleging violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Many of the violations were considered technicalities, and often a lawsuit and demand for compensation was the first the property owner learned of the alleged infraction.

Michael Frasier, an attorney and board member of the Metro IBA, said the bill's purpose is to stop "drive-by lawsuits" that are accompanied by pressure for payoffs that don't address any underlying accessibility concerns.

"This legislation would help discourage abusive lawsuits while encouraging more accessibility," said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "We do not want to protect businesses that refuse to correct a violation. If a business fails to fix the problem, it would be subject to the same lawsuits that are available under current law. However, a legislative fix is needed both at the state and federal levels …"

Numerous business owners complained to their associations and legislators that even when they took steps to make improvements, the lawsuit and demand for money continued.

The legislation was authored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, a DFLer from Minneapolis, and Rep. Dennis Smith, a Republican from Maple Grove

The Minnesota Chamber has worked on the legislation with several organizations, including the Minnesota State Council on Disability, Legal Aid and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

The key provisions include:

• A demand letter sent to a business alleging ADA architectural violations that must specify the barrier and provide the business time to fix the issue or submit a plan for fixing the issue. The letter cannot include a demand for a monetary settlement.

• The burden of proof shifts to the plaintiff to show a violation if the suit is against an owner that has had an ADA audit by certified professionals to ensure the owner is in ADA compliance.

Hansmeier faces disbarment or suspension from the state board that investigates ethics complaints against Minnesota lawyers due to his behavior.

And a federal judge in December ordered the liquidation of Hansmeier's assets after finding that he sought bankruptcy protection to thwart creditors.

Neal St. Anthony

Merger cuts

Ecolab will pare jobs connected to acquisition

St. Paul-based Ecolab will cut up to 120 U.S. jobs after it completes its $40 million purchase of Swisher Hygiene's U.S. operations, officials said Tuesday. The acquisition is expected to finalize sometime this spring.

About 60 workers will be affected at Swisher's current U.S. headquarters in North Carolina. That leased office will be closed, said Ecolab spokeswoman Kari Bjorhus.

Another 50 to 60 Swisher workers combined will also lose jobs at Swisher facilities in Portland, Ore.; Phoenix; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and customer service offices in New Jersey and Missouri.

Affected workers may apply for other positions within Ecolab, Bjorhus said. All layoffs are expected to be complete before the end of the year.



Delta waiving European rebooking penalties

Delta Air Lines is waiving rebooking penalties for ticket holders flying to or through Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris following Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Belgium. The Atlanta-based carrier is one of many airlines to allow passengers a one-time flight change without incurring a fee. Fliers whose flights have already been canceled are eligible for a full refund.

Delta flies nonstop from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Amsterdam and Paris. Flights from MSP to Brussels — the location of the latest attacks — require one European stopover.

To be eligible for the waiver, passengers must already have booked travel between March 22 and March 31. Travelers must reschedule their flights by Sunday, March 27, and use the ticket by the end of the month.

American, United, Air Canada, Lufthansa and Brussels airlines have also announced travel waivers to affected cities.

Kristen Painter