HomeAsian AmericansAsian business owners in Oregon allege targeting in ADA lawsuits

Asian business owners in Oregon allege targeting in ADA lawsuits

Asian business owners in and around Portland, Oregon, are claiming that they are “easy targets” for predatory legal practices, according to KGW. They say they face legal threats and jargon in their non-native language.

Attorneys Jessica Molligan and David Foster have filed 47 lawsuits in the area on behalf of different plaintiffs, urging businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to court records, 22 of those lawsuits involved Asian-owned businesses.

Owners of these businesses reported demand letters appearing at their doorsteps, calling for them to comply with necessary accessibility measures within two weeks and pay an attorney’s fee — usually approximately $10,000 — to avoid getting sued, KGW reported.

Hanh Tran, who owns a strip mall made up of five small businesses, said she received one such letter, which did not specify what requirements she violated. After installing a “van accessible” sign and repainting parking spaces within the proposed time frame, she was still sued, Tran told KGW.

Doug Hwang, whose father received a letter, said his father had owned property for more than two decades and never received a complaint. Moreover, he questioned the intentions behind the recent slew of demand letters, according to a KGW report from May.

“If they had said, ‘These are all the things wrong. Please fix them on behalf of the ADA community,’ we would have done it, no problem,” Hwang told KGW. “Instead, it feels like it’s very much about money.”

The Portland cases echo similar incidents in the Bay Area in 2021, in which a different pair of lawyers pursued action against approximately 100 businesses in San Francisco’s Chinatown and 1,000 businesses in the state of California, according to NBC Bay Area.

Dennis Price, an attorney with the Center for Disability Access which represented the involved legal practitioners, expressed skepticism that businesses would comply with ADA standards without legal pressure, NBC Bay Area wrote.

“These cases, they’re based on making this place more accessible,” Price said. “We’re not trying to put these people out of business.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform alleged in a 2022 report that small businesses are often targeted for ADA violations due to their limited familiarity with ADA specifications and inability to afford pursuing litigation.

“I couldn’t have been any more blindsided,” Mike Davis, a small-scale commercial property owner said in the May KGW report.

For small business owners who emigrated from Asian countries, these factors remain true — but beyond not knowing legalese, many speak limited English in general.

In 2023, the state of Oregon’s Employment Department shared that Vietnamese and Chinese are the third and fifth most spoken languages in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. Approximately half of the populations that speak these languages reported speaking English “less than very well.”

In their comments to KGW, Molligan denied targeting Asian-owned businesses, and Foster claimed to no longer be involved in the ADA cases.

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