Greyhound Lines, Inc. will make changes in the ways it trains employees to work with passengers with disabilities in Minnesota. The agreement for improved training is in response to a Minnesota Department of Human Rights complaint filed in November 2010.
Resolution of the complaint was announced May 22 at the Minnesota Disability Law Center. It typically takes a year for a human rights complaint to make its way to resolution.
On Nov. 2, 2010, Shoreview resident Mark Hughes filed a charge of discrimination with the MDHR alleging that Greyhound failed to accommodate his disability and provide him with equal access to its services in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. On Dec. 6, 2011, after conducting its investigation, human rights staff determined that there was probable cause to believe that Greyhound engaged in violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Hughes and Greyhound, the nation’s largest bus firm, based in Dallas, have agreed to settle this matter without resorting to litigation in court. The settlement includes training and $4,000 from Greyhound, with $3,000 to Hughes and $1,000 to his legal counsel, the Minnesota Disability Law Center.
“It’s not so much about the funds as it is about how now we have disability sensitivity training for Greyhound in the State of Minnesota,” Hughes said.
The type of complaint Hughes made is similar to other intercity bus company complaints around the country, said Justin Page, an attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center. “We hope this raises awareness of the problem and makes Greyhound more accountable.” He said the required employee training is a good settlement.
The settlement is specific to Minnesota Greyhound employees, Page added. Hughes wanted injunctive relief, in the form of better employee training. If the disagreement hadn’t been settled, the matter would have gone to court, which Hughes wanted to avoid. Hughes had booked an overnight business trip on Greyhound from Minneapolis to Chicago. Hughes, who uses a wheelchair, let Greyhound know the bus would need to have a lift. But when the bus arrived, the lift was broken. Nor did its key work. Hughes was given a refund for his ticket, “but the more I thought about it, I thought, hey, this is a disability rights issue.”
Greyhound and other intercity bus service providers specify in their ticketing information that passengers with disabilities should contact them in advance. Greyhound’s website indicates a minimum 48-hour notice for a bus with a wheelchair lift. The website states, “ If you do not provide this notice, we will make every reasonable effort to help you if such an accommodation will not delay departure of the schedule on which you wish to travel.” The combined weight of a passenger and a mobility aid cannot exceed 600 pounds, and the aid itself cannot be more than 30 inches wide and 48 inches high. Hughes said he made his reservation well in advance of the 48- hour period.
“Mark didn’t even get a phone call saying the lift wasn’t working,” said Page.
Under the agreement with the state, Greyhound denied violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The agreement also indicates that the settlement doesn’t constitute an admission of discrimination by Greyhound.
Under the agreement, Greyhound employees who provide customer service to passengers shall participate in at least one hour of training on the public accommodations portions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The training shall include policies toward accommodating individuals with disabilities, specifically, individuals with disabilities that affect mobility. The training shall include education on the operation and testing of equipment that assists people with disabilities, on procedures to use if such equipment malfunctions, on reporting and documenting problems with equipment and on communicating with customers who request accommodations, to the extent that such employees’ job duties encompass such responsibilities. Within 60 days of the agreement’s approval, Greyhound will give state human rights officials the proposed content of the training. Verification that employees underwent training will also be submitted. Refresher training will be conducted within two years. The training will include education on the operation and testing of equipment used by Greyhound Lines Inc.
Page said “The Disability Law Center does receive other transportation-related complaints. Airlines, bus companies and taxis generate complaints about lack of accommodations.”
Greyhound didn’t respond to a request for comment, indicating that the company typically doesn’t comment on legal issues.
Nationally, Greyhound has been the subject of several ADA-related complaints from riders. In 1999, Greyhound agreed to improve service for passengers with disabilities, resolving complaints that its drivers and other employees violated antidiscrimination law.
That out-of-court settlement was reached with the U.S. Department of Justice. At that time, Greyhound faced allegations that it denied boarding assistance to passengers with disabilities and that some of its facilities were not accessible.
Passengers with disabilities complained that they faced verbal harassment, or in some cases, were injured when they were physically carried off and onto buses. Sometimes other passengers tried to help when Greyhound staff refused to do so. At least one passenger was dropped. In another case, a passenger with a service animal wasn’t allowed to board a bus. In all, there were 14 complaints, based on incidents in about a dozen states.
At that time, Greyhound agreed to pay more than $17,500 in damages, including individual payments to 14 people who brought complaints, the Justice Department said. That agreement also requires Greyhound to make reasonable efforts to provide accessible bus service at all of the 2,600 destinations it serves when given 48 hours’ notice. That agreement also phased in accessible bus service in three stages.
At that time, lift-equipped service wasn’t required by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT). Use of lift-equipped service wasn’t required until 2001.