Clint Eastwood, Disabled Spar

Thursday, May 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Actor Clint Eastwood is getting his day, if not making it, in a battle with advocates for the disabled who say his California hotel is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A California woman has sued the actor, prompting an outcry from Eastwood about what he says are frivolous lawsuits under the law that target small businesses.

Eastwood, angered by a request from the woman for more than $500,000 in attorneys fees, planned to ask a House subcommittee today to amend the 10-year-old law so businesses like his Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel, Calif., have more time to comply.

A bill sponsored by Florida Republicans Mark Foley and Clay Shaw would require plaintiffs to give defendants notice of alleged violations and then 90 days to comply.

``I totally support the ADA laws. I think people not in compliance should get into compliance,'' Eastwood said in a telephone interview Wednesday. But he added, ``I think there should be a better way to get people in compliance.''

Said Foley, ``I don't want to create an impediment to the ADA. In fairness, businesses should be given a chance to fix it.''

The case against Eastwood, filed three years ago, claims the former Carmel mayor violated ADA provisions in his 32-room Mission Ranch Hotel and restaurant. At least one bathroom and the hotel parking lot did not comply with the law and there were not enough rooms accessible to the disabled, the suit claimed.

Paul Rein, who represented plaintiff Diane Zum Brunnen in the suit, said Eastwood's fight for notification is unfair to the disabled.

``If a black person is not allowed to enter a business because of his race, he's not required to send a letter. If a woman is not allowed to ..., she's not required to send a letter. Why should disabled persons be the only class of persons required to send letters?'' Rein said.

Eastwood insists his hotel is in compliance and says he and other small businesses are being preyed upon by money-seeking attorneys.

The lawsuit demands $577,000 in attorneys fees. The disabled cannot collect monetary damages under the law, although Rein says the lawsuit does demand $25,000 for Brunnen under a California statute.

``He thinks I'm some stiff coming along that's going to roll over,'' Eastwood said. ``I'm going to trial. I'm going to take it before a judge and a jury.''

The actor said he is fighting for other small business owners as well. ``A lot of people can't afford that. Somebody has got to stand up for those people. Somebody has got to help out.''

Advocate for the disabled fear the fight could result in weakening the law once lawmakers begin reviewing it.

``Once we open up this bill, there's no way to control the number of amendments that may come forward,'' said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems. ``This is going to be a message to anybody that has not complied... Despite a decade of legal requirements nationally, they are basically being given a free ride for not complying with the law.


The bill is H.R. 3590

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