Not So Fast: Hertz Discriminates Against People With Disabilities, Class Action Alleges

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Hertz Faces A Proposed Class Action Lawsuit Alleging The Company Breaks Federal Laws By Not Having Hand Controls In Vehicles

Finding a rental car that fits your needs can be difficult enough, but two women in California who use wheelchairs claim in a new lawsuit that car rental company Hertz makes it even more difficult for people who have disabilities by limiting the number of cars with hand controls, and only having them in more expensive models. 

The women allege the company’s policies amount to discrimination, ultimately denying them, and others with disabilities, “the full and equal enjoyment of its goods” violating both state and federal law, the lawsuit claims. 

Policies limit access

Christina Mills and Carina Ho filed the proposed class action lawsuit in California federal court alleging that Hertz commits “systemic civil rights violations” against people with disabilities who need hand controls in order to operate a rental car. A hand control, which “can be installed and used in virtually any car on the market” has a device that allows drivers to accelerate and brake using their left or right hand, and a spinner knob for one-handed steering. 

Both Mills and Ho use wheelchairs and require hand controls to operate rental cars, and both have wanted to rent a minivan, convertible, or electric car from Hertz, but have been unable to find one with hand controls, the lawsuit claims. 

The lawsuit says while Hertz used to have hand controls installed in most of its vehicles, its offering has declined to just the Kia Forte, the Kia Rio, the Kia Sedona, and the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and often the only cars available with hand controls are SUVs, which aren’t feasible for Ho or Mills. 

“By relegating customers who need hand controls to a restricted set of rental vehicles and depriving them of the opportunity to rent whole categories of vehicles, Hertz is denying people with disabilities the full and equal enjoyment of its goods and services that is their legal right,” the lawsuit alleges.

Hand control options more pricey

It’s not just a lack of options that wheelchair users face, the lawsuit claims, but also much higher costs, with Mills and Ho saying they’ve had to pay more than double what the cheapest rental car would cost per day to find one with hand controls. The lawsuit says that amounts to “an impermissible surcharge on customers with disabilities.”

Mills and Ho, along with their lawyers at Disability Rights Advocates, say they have repeatedly asked Hertz to modify its policies and practices so people with disabilities who need hand controls have full and equal access to the car rental and reservation services it offers. But despite those requests, nothing has changed, they say. 

Americans With Disabilities Act covers rental companies

Given car rental locations are places of public accommodation, they fall under the coverage of the American With Disabilities Act meaning they must offer “the full and equal enjoyment of its goods and services that Title III requires,” the lawsuit states.

MobilityWorks settled a similar class action lawsuit in 2020 which resulted in it having to install hand controls and other adaptive equipment in any available rental vehicle on request, at no charge to customers. Avis reached a similar settlement in the ‘90s, Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, in 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled that individuals who rely on hand controls to operate their cars and trucks have an equal right to test drive their vehicles before purchasing them.

Hertz has been stung before

Disability Rights Advocates, a national nonprofit advocacy group, have taken Hertz to court before, in 1996 to be exact, alleging the same violations of the ADA with a lack of hand controls. In 2000, they settled the case and Hertz had to install “removable or temporary hand controls, without any extra charge, on all vehicle models for which they can safely be operated and which will not require permanent alterations to the vehicle,” Local News Matters reported

However, that settlement requirement only lasted two years, and DRA Senior Staff Attorney Meredith Weaver told the publication: “unfortunately, in the intervening time, Hertz has reverted to discriminatory conduct and we’re kind of back here again.”

“The general public might not … think that it is possible for [people with these disabilities] to drive, but it really is. All it takes is accommodations that exist already and have existed for a very long time, and are relatively easy to install. We think it’s pretty simple,” Weaver said.

Mills and Ho want to represent people with disabilities from across the country who have tried to rent Hertz vehicles. They are seeking an injunction, a declaration, and damages from what they allege are violations of the ADA and Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The plaintiffs are represented by Shawna L. Parks, Sean Betouliere, and Meredith J. Weaver of Disability Rights Advocates.

The Hertz class action lawsuit is Ho et al. v. The Hertz Corporation et al., Case No. 3:24-cv-01066 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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