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Judge must rule if Wynn Resorts gives disabled enough ‘Le Reve’ space

Activists working on behalf of the disabled have sued Wynn Resorts, claiming that Wynn Las Vegas discriminates against the disabled and violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

One complaint: People in wheelchairs didn’t have their choice of seats at "Le Reve."

So when the hotel closed "Le Reve" on March 6 for an $8 million monthlong renovation, I wondered whether the remodeling might have been at least in part a response to the lawsuit filed in January.

Wynn officials insist it wasn’t.

"The renovation was cosmetic only," said Terry Murphy, community affairs adviser for the resort.

The renovation cut the number of seats from 2,087 to 1,606 and created a VIP section with more legroom and extras including champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Nothing was done to make it more accessible for the disabled.

The showroom has passed county fire and building codes and is ADA compliant, Murphy said.

End of story?

Maybe, maybe not.

This isn’t the first ADA lawsuit filed against a Nevada hotel by Utah attorney Richard Armknecht III.

Murphy said Armknecht has sued 31 times in Nevada, alleging ADA violations.

In 2001, he won portions of his lawsuit against The Orleans and forced the hotel to widen its bathroom doors in guest rooms so that people with wheelchairs could have access.

The bathroom doors were 28 inches wide, and under the ADA they had to be 32 inches.

Federal Judge Roger Hunt ruled in 1999 that was a technical violation and cited the enormous expense required to change the doors on all 819 rooms.

But an appellate court overturned him, and the changes had to be made after all, no matter the cost.

The appeals court also said it was a violation that two of the slot change kiosks were not accessible. But the appeals court agreed with The Orleans that having six pool cabanas accessible to wheelchairs instead of all nine was not discrimination against the disabled.

Win a little, lose a little.

The complaints against Wynn Las Vegas are based on visits to the hotel by two disabled Florida men. William Norkunas is a professional ADA consultant, and Peter Spalluto is a quadriplegic described as "a civil rights activist with an extensive history as a litigant of ADA design and construction violations."

The two disabled men, joined by a group called Disabled Rights Action Committee, listed a series of problems they claim discriminated against the disabled when they made separate visits to Wynn Las Vegas in 2006.

The first claim, that there was no ADA disabled seating in the theaters showing "Le Reve" and "Spamalot," is unbelievable. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs at both shows.

In an interview, Armknecht said the problem with the "Le Reve" theater was the lack of seating choices. "Wheelchair users had only one possible choice of seating."

In "Le Reve," wheelchairs are placed in the back row of the first section, Murphy explained.

Other complaints: lack of signs showing ADA access, handicapped ramps that didn’t have handrails, counters with cash registers that hadn’t been lowered for wheelchair access, dining areas with no accessible tables, public restrooms with inaccessible elements and, the easiest one to fix, some counters had been lowered for wheelchair access but were being used for big floral displays. (I have noticed this in various hotels.)

Norkunas wrote Steve Wynn about the inaccessible conditions in April 2006, but got no answer. So he sued nine months later.

Some of the requests seem a bit unrealistic. They want Judge Hunt, who has this case too, to stop Wynn Las Vegas from operating until the problems are fixed.

Like that will happen.

Some are going to say this lawsuit is over the top, until the day they’re in a wheelchair or pushing one.

One of Armknecht’s beefs would be so easy to fix, namely the tendency to use the lower portion of counters for storage or floral arrangements, so people in wheelchairs can’t use the space provided for their disability."

Moving flowers and potted plants wouldn’t be a tough concession and wouldn’t cost a dime.

I do wonder how many choices of seats in a theater a person in a wheelchair is entitled to.

But that’s Judge Hunt’s problem now.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.

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