WASHINGTON - Foreign cruise ships operating from U.S. ports may not discriminate against disabled passengers, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The 5-4 decision held that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to foreign-flagged cruise ships and bars them from charging higher fares to disabled passengers.
More than 7 million passengers annually board these ships and depart from U.S. ports, the court pointed out. And although Americans make up the majority of people who travel aboard cruise ships, most of the vessels fly foreign flags.
The ruling was a victory for Douglas Spector, a Houston man who uses a wheelchair. He sued Norwegian Cruise Line and alleged that he was charged more for a cabin than other passengers. He also said he was dismayed to learn he did not have access to restaurants, swimming pools and other shipboard amenities because of physical barriers.
The 1990 law says disabled people are entitled to the "full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations" and public transportation. Where possible, the law requires hotels, restaurants, buses and airplanes to eliminate barriers to the disabled.
While Congress did not say whether the law extended to cruise ships, the court's majority said it assumed lawmakers meant for its anti-discrimination rules to apply to ships operating in U.S. waters.
Passengers may not be charged higher fares or given second-class treatment because of their disability, he said. But the ship's owners need not redesign or rebuild their older ships to accommodate disabled people, he said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.