Disability Rights Lawyer Scott Johnson Targets Burger Stand, Forces It To Close

Scott Johnson; Americans with Disabilities Act; ADA

The poor economy brought Ford's Real Hamburgers to the brink. But the owners of the Sacramento, Calif., burger stand say they finally had to close when they became the target of a disability rights crusader. Without the cash on hand to make its bathroom handicapped-accessible, Ford's says that after more than two decades of business it was forced to fry its last patty.

Scott Johnson, a quadriplegic, sued the burger stand on Sept. 7, claiming that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, all public accommodations must make "reasonable modifications" so that disabled people can enjoy the place like anybody else.

Johnson claimed that the burger stand's lack of disabled parking and an accessible restroom caused him to experience "difficulty, discomfort and embarrassment" on the two times he visited, and made him feel like "a second class citizen." His lawsuit requested a court order to force Ford's to make renovations, as well as attorney's fees and the minimum damages for discrimination: $4,000 for each offense.

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"We scrimped and saved and cut down the staff. I'm down to six employees," owner Hank Vereschzagin told Sacramento TV station KTXL. But there just wasn't the money to renovate the 60-year-old building. "I don't know what I'm going to do next," he added. "I just know I can't keep this open."

Ford's is far from the first small business to be targeted by Johnson, an attorney who was disabled by a hit-and-run drunken driver in 1981. Back in 2010 Sacramento's KXTV reported that, since the early 2000s, Johnson had sued more than 1,000 businesses to enforce the ADA in Northern California,

Johnson has claimed that his average settlement is between $4,000 and $6,000, which means that his compensation may add up to the millions. But he says that it's in the service of a larger cause -- pushing businesses to be ADA-compliant.

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Fellow wheelchair-user and longtime Ford's customer, Jerry Sylvia, said that he doesn't feel as if Johnson is fighting for him, however. "He's strictly crusading on his own behalf," he told KTXL.

And Johnson has made many enemies over the years, including local radio host Joe Getty, who has accused Johnson of "bold-faced extortion masquerading as trying to help the handicapped." "It's crime," he told KXTV. "It's legalized crime."

And what Johnson is doing is, in fact, legal. The controversy swirling around his lawsuits, Johnson has said, simply shows how reluctant many business owners are to ensure that they don't discriminate against the disabled. "I bring change," he told KXTV. "People resist change."

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