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Celano and Thesing v. Marriott International: FACT SHEET

Case Name: Celano and Thesing v. Marriott International
Case Number:
Court: U.S. District Court - Northern District of California
Date filed: October 4, 2005
Case Type: Class Action lawsuit for injunctive and declaratory relief only (no damages)
Claims: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code 51 & 54)
Plaintiffs: Lawrence Celano and Richard Thesing, individually, and on behalf of the class
Defendants: Marriott International, Inc.; Host Marriott Corp.; Ocean Colony Partners, L.L.C.
Plaintiffs' Counsel:

Chavez and Gertler, LLP - An award winning, nationally known, and A-V rated law firm located just north of San Francisco in Mill Valley, California. The firm's seven attorneys represent plaintiffs in class actions and have been responsible for some of the largest recoveries ever achieved in consumer cases in California.

Disability Rights Advocates - A non-profit law firm dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities located in Oakland, California. DRA advocates for disability rights through high-impact litigation, as well as research and education. DRA's national advocacy work includes high-impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all types of disabilities, including mobility, hearing, vision, learning and psychological disabilities. Through negotiation and litigation, DRA has made thousands of facilities throughout the country accessible and has enforced access rights for millions of people with disabilities in many key areas of life, including education, employment, transportation and health care.


Q & A

Q: What is the basis of the suit?
A: Plaintiffs Laurence Celano and Richard Thesing each have a mobility disability that requires that they use an assistive mobility device. Despite their disabilities they enjoy and play the sport of golf. Mr. Celano and Mr. Thesing and others like them are able to play the sport they love by using an accessible golf cart, a currently available technology that allows mobility-impaired individuals to operate a golf cart with hand controls and to rotate and tilt the seat to position themselves to swing and strike the golf ball, while remaining seated or in a semi-standing position. Golf courses that do not provide these accessible carts are illegally excluding individuals with mobility disabilities by failing to provide them with the auxiliary aides necessary to play golf. Accessible carts are economically feasible auxiliary aides that allow individuals with mobility disabilities to obtain equal access to golf courses.

Q: Who is in the Class?
A: The class consists of "All people with mobility disabilities throughout the United States who require an accessible golf cart to secure full and equal access to the golf courses that are owned, operated and/or contracted for usage by Defendants." This class asserts a nationwide claim for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is also a similar California subclass brought under California state law.

Q: How do accessible golf carts work?
A: Accessible carts are single-rider golf carts that allow a golfer with a mobility impairment to drive using hand controls, much like a power wheelchair. The carts also have the capability to rotate and tilt to the side, giving the golfer the opportunity to approach the ball and take a full swing, without having to exit the cart. Currently accessible carts are widely available on the open market, and manufacturers include SoloRider, GolfXpress and Model Tee.

Q: Why is this suit important to all Americans and to people with disabilities?
A: More than 25 million Americans play golf, and increasingly the sport is a major form of both recreational and commercial activity for people in all sectors of society. While many enjoy the game as a hobby or sport, golf also enjoys a long-standing association with commerce in the United States. Many business deals and professional relationships are cultivated and perpetuated on America's golf courses. The Americans with Disabilities Act sought to remedy the historical isolation and segregation of, and discrimination against, individuals with disabilities from all aspects of society. Individuals with disabilities deserve full and equal access to golf courses, which have become an increasingly important facet of American business and recreational culture.

Q: Who are the defendants?
A: The defendants are Marriott International, Inc., Host Marriott Corporation and their subsidiaries (including the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Resort). Ocean Colony Partners, L.L.C., which owns and operates Half Moon Bay Golf Links, is sued in conjunction with Marriott.

Q: Who are the named plaintiffs?
A: Lawrence Celano lives in Arizona and is currently the primary caretaker for his child. He earned a purple heart while serving in the United States Army during the invasion of Panama. He sustained a spinal cord injury from gunshot wounds received in Panama, rendering him unable to walk. He took up golf after his accident so that he could socialize with his friends.

Richard Thesing suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident at age 18 and must use a wheelchair. He was appointed by President Clinton to a four-year term on the U.S. Access Board in 2000. During his tenure, the Access Board issued a guideline that directed all golf courses open to the public to permit a disabled person to drive a golf cart anyplace on the course, including tees and greens, in order to play golf. In 2004, Thesing served on the Board of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf. Members of the Alliance included representatives from the major golf organizations such as the USGA, PGA Tour, PGA of America, LPGA and the Golf Course Owners Association.

Q: How did this suit develop?
A: Plaintiffs have requested on numerous occasions throughout 2004 and 2005 that defendant Marriott provide them with accessible golf carts so that they can play at Marriott's courses. Marriott never responded to Mr. Celano's request. Mr. Thesing was told by Marriott that Half Moon Bay Golf Links did not provide accessible carts. Mr. Thesing has written to Marriott on several occasions requesting that the hotel chain and golf course operator provide accessible carts, but Marriott has repeatedly refused to provide this accommodation. Mr. Thesing also contacted Ocean Colony's Half Moon Bay Golf Links, who to this date has also refused to provide an accessible cart.

Q: How many golf courses does Marriott own and operate?
A: Marriott owns, operates, and contracts for usage approximately 80 golf courses, some of which are considered to be among the most desirable golf courses in the country. Marriott's courses attract tournaments, business conferences, corporate retreats, and corporate memberships.

Q: Are accessible golf carts really a readily available remedy for individuals with mobility disabilities to play golf?
A: Accessible golf carts are readily available for purchase by willing owners and operators of golf courses. These carts may be purchased or leased by golf courses at reasonable costs, either equal to or slightly higher than the cost of regular golf carts, and the cost of such purchase or lease may be recouped through rental charges passed on to consumers, as would any other overhead cost including the purchase of additional non-accessible golf carts. Furthermore, accessible golf carts can be used by non-disabled golfers, and could simply add to a course's fleet of carts when not reserved by a disabled golfer.

Q: What laws are being violated by Marriott and Ocean Partners' Half Moon Bay Golf Links?
A: Defendants are in violation of several federal and state laws that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. The golf courses in question are public accommodations covered by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Defendants have discriminated against the plaintiff and class members by denying them the opportunity for the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of the golf courses owned, operated and/or contracted for usage by the defendants. The defendants have failed to provide auxiliary aids and services where the provision of such aids and services does not pose an undue burden. In addition, the defendants have not modified their policies, procedures and practices in accordance with the ADA to ensure equal access for individuals with mobility disabilities. Defendants are also in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code 51) and California's Disabled Persons Act (California Civil Code 54) on similar grounds.

Q: What are the goals of this lawsuit?
A: The suit seeks an injunction requiring defendants to provide accessible golf carts at each of the golf courses they own, operate or contract for usage. A sufficient number of such carts must be provided at each of their courses so that they are readily available to golfers with mobility disabilities.

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