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ADA shakedowns called technically illegal
Dave Anderson of As it Stands answers questions during Fridays ADA workshop. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

Manteca’s small business owners are scared.

At least two dozen have been named in lawsuits by Carmichael-based serial litigator Scott Johnson for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the rest are worried that they’ll soon be next – subjected to letters telling them that they can either pay a set amount of money up front punitively to make the lawsuit go away or make the necessary repairs.

But when dozens of people packed into The Emory on Friday they learned something that they didn’t already know – those shakedown letters are technically illegal. That, however, has prevented the Carmichael-based attorney from prevailing in many of the 3,000 plus lawsuits he has filed contending his civil rights are violated.

In what has been described by some as legalized extortion, letters that solicit money in lieu of making the necessary ADA-compliant repairs or overhauls – which Johnson distributes in the communities that he visits – are technically against the law.

Not only does paying the punitive amount not prevent future litigation, but according to a consultant contracted through the City of Manteca and local cabinet maker John Perez, they set a terrible precedent in a fight against what has become a gold mine for unscrupulous lawyers that business folks are worries are just trying to cash in.

“We’ve got a good turnout, and it’s something that’s important and affects all of us,” said Perez, who has kept his cabinet shop closed out of fear since the notices started appearing. “We need to know these things and I think that sessions like this help us figure those out.”

There were other items that few of the business owners knew prior to walking into that room on Friday as well.

You know that “no public restrooms” sign in the window of the business you just walked into?

Technically, it’s nothing more than a decoration.

According to the consultant, any business with fixtures has to provide a bathroom – an ADA-compliant one if they’re smart – to customers that request to use the facilities. Telling customers that they’re only for employees, she said, is technically illegal and can open up business owners for litigation.

Last month the City of Manteca hosted a similar session that packed the council chambers – which were recently overhauled to comply with the law – full of small-business and building owners worried that a flurry of local lawsuits and proposed shakedown letters would leave them financially devastated.

One business owner was so afraid that he’d open himself up for litigation that he asked for neither his business nor the situation that he’s facing to be named in the newspaper.

“I just don’t want to have somebody show up one day,” he said. “Nobody wants that.”