Burger King settles deaf woman's suit

April 03, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- In a legal settlement that could speed the breakdown of barriers to the disabled, Burger King has agreed to test electronic ordering devices and provide menu order forms at some of its restaurants to accommodate the hearing-impaired and people with speech impediments.

The agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by Terrylene Sacchetti, a Santa Monica, Calif., woman who alleged she was refused service at a West Los Angeles Burger King drive-through because she is deaf. The suit sought to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act, a wide-ranging 1990 law requiring businesses to accommodate disabled people in public spaces.

As part of the settlement, Ms. Sacchetti will sign an 18-month contract to advise Burger King as it develops new menu-ordering devices. Ms. Sacchetti, an actress, will also appear in two commercials highlighting the chain's efforts to serve the disabled. Burger King will pay no damages but will cover half of Ms. Sacchetti's legal expenses and compensate her as a consultant, said Ms. Sacchetti's lawyer, Alexis Kashar, who is also deaf.

Burger King has agreed to provide menu forms at 99 restaurants within the next six months for customers who want to write their orders. The Miami-based chain has also agreed to develop and install electronic ordering devices at 10 restaurants by March 1995. If the test is successful, the devices would be installed within the franchise chain's 6,000 restaurants, the company said. Ms. Sacchetti will help select test sites.

In the lawsuit, filed in December in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Ms. Sacchetti said she drove past the West Los Angeles drive-through intercom and handed a written order to an employee. Ms. Sacchetti, who can read lips, said the worker refused to fill the order, argued with her and threatened to call the police if she did not move her car.

Michael Evans, a Burger King spokesman, said he could not comment on the specific allegations.

"This is a hard way to learn a lesson, but Burger King has responded in a fashion that may benefit the 43 million Americans with disabilities," said Wendy Webster, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association.

Ms. Webster said the restaurant association has developed a booklet explaining the legal obligations of restaurants to the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Washington-based trade group has also developed a videotape designed to raise the sensitivities of restaurant employees.

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