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'Hamilton' Production Companies Hit with Civil Rights Class Action Suit

A proposed class action lawsuit claims the companies behind the hit musical “Hamilton” committed “systematic” civil rights violations by failing to provide blind and visually impaired individuals with audio description services that would allow them to fully enjoy the show.   

Who are the defendants in the case?

The 11-page lawsuit, which was filed in New York district court, lists the below companies as defendants:

  • Nederlander Organization, Inc., which the case says owns and operates the 1,319-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City
  • Hamilton Uptown Limited Liability Company, which, the lawsuit notes, is the producer of “Hamilton” and owner of the play’s trademark and copyrights
  • Baseline Theatrical Limited Liability Company, the management outfit of “Hamilton” that provides “services and guidance in financial management and long-term production planning” for the musical

What does the lawsuit say?

The lawsuit specifically alleges that the above defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which Congress created as a national mandate to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The defendants’ alleged conduct, the lawsuit says, denied blind and visually impaired individuals throughout the country equal access to the services it offers in its theaters.

What happened to the plaintiff?

The plaintiff who filed the lawsuit claims he contacted the Box Office in September 2016 to ask about interpretation services offered to blind and visually impaired people who attend “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Threatre. According to the complaint, the plaintiff was told such services were unavailable.

“On September 22, 2016, [the plaintiff] contacted the Box Office to inquire [about] interpretation services for the blind and visually impaired in order to attend the musical, “Hamilton,” at Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York,” the complaint says. “However, the Box Office informed [the plaintiff] that interpretation services were not available. Unless [the defendants] provide audio description services, [the plaintiff] and class members will continue to be unable to enjoy the service provided in the Richard Rodgers Theatre.”

What are “audio description services” and why are they so important?

Audio description services are widely used and usually provided to blind and visually impaired folks through a battery-powered headset through which a narrative description of the visual action and scenery on stage are described. This technology, the lawsuit says, is essential for blind individuals looking to enjoy a live musical experience so they will know what is happening in scenes that do not feature dialogue or scenes “that include significant visual elements.”

From the lawsuit:

“The audio description technology is widely used in entertainment industries such as movie theaters. On November 21, 2016, Attorney General of the United States signed a final rule under the ADA to require covered movie theaters to have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide audio description at a movie patron’s seat. Given the similarities of the movie venue with the live theater venue, live theaters must also be required to provide live audio description to the blind.”

Who is covered by the proposed class?

The lawsuit seeks to cover a proposed class that includes all blind individuals and those with visual impairments throughout the U.S. who have attempted to see the musical “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

The full complaint can be read below.

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