Inside the ADA Lawsuit Against the Chicago Cubs

A baseball glove, and weathered ball lying on home plate in late afternoon sun. The Chicago U.S. Attorney’s office announced it was suing the Chicago Cubs over the recent years-long renovation of Wrigley Field to force them to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hearing that news got me thinking about what happened at Wrigley Field the first and only time I ever went to a Cubs game with my Seeing Eye dog. When we got there, the man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to her harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog, and he sent me to a different gate. The man at the second gate wasn’t sure, either. He’d have to get a supervisor to come and check us out.

Turns out a week earlier someone had brought their untrained puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, fans sitting nearby complained, and after that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog.

So my Seeing Eye dog and I stood there and waited for the guy at the second gate to summon a supervisor to come and “approve” us.

We didn’t have to wait long, but we sure stuck out just standing there while all the other ticket holders breezed by and waltzed right into the ballpark, no problem. It just didn’t seem fair somehow.

When the supervisor arrived, she saw my dog’s harness and immediately gave us the thumbs up. She even guided us to our seats. We enjoyed the game. I never considered suing, but that’s only because mine was an easy fix. I did get in, I had a seat, my Seeing Eye dog could guide me in and out of the restrooms when I needed to go, I could reach the paper towel dispenser after washing my hands there, and the cashiers could see me when I walked up to the counter to order food.

For people with physical disabilities – those using wheelchairs, scooters or crutches, for example – the fixes are not that easy. The Fed’s suit against the Cubs claims Countertops in restrooms and at concession stands at Wrigley are too high for people using wheelchairs to reach paper towels or order food. An article in the Chicago Sun-Times reports the feds’ investigation of Wrigley’s ADA compliance became public in December 2019, when lawyers for the team filed a letter as part of a lawsuit brought by David Cerda, a Cubs fan with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who uses a wheelchair. His father, David Alberto Cerda, is also his attorney.

The Cubs have spent a lot of time and money renovating Wrigley Field these past few years, but an article in Sports Illustrated says the 2019 lawsuit states that while the Cubs “significantly enhanced the gameday experience for many fans, particularly those able to take advantage of premium clubs and other luxury accommodations, the same can not be said for fans with disabilities.” You can check out the entire 19-page lawsuit here — the suit also highlights how the Cubs failed to remove architectural barriers where they could, and instead they placed wheelchair seating in the last row of general admission.

I haven’t studied ADA regulations to know if relegating people using wheelchairs to the last row in a stadium is an infraction, but I do know this: Cub fans stand up and cheer a lot during games. If you are seated in a wheelchair in the last row with all those people standing in front of you, your sightlines will be terrible –you’re bound to miss a lot of the action on the field.

The Chicago Sun-Times article quotes the team as saying they are “disappointed in the lawsuit” and hoped the suit could be “resolved amicably.” The team also said it would “defend Wrigley Field” and defend their position that Wrigley meets accessibility requirements for fans.

I’m eager to see how it all, ahem, plays out.


 

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