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Jewish World Review March 7, 2001 / 12 Adar, 5761

David Patch

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Consumer Reports


Demanding an interpreter at a comedy club

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- TOLEDO, Ohio | The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is tentatively supporting a deaf woman's claim that a comedy club discriminated against her when it refused to provide an interpreter at one of its shows.

Rebecca Bisesi, 23, contends the club violated state law when it did not agree to supply an interpreter. Under Ohio law, owners or operators of places open to the public may not discriminate against potential patrons who have disabling handicaps.

Frank Stevens, owner of Connxtionscq II Comedy Club, is fighting the preliminary ruling. He said he offered to allow Bisesi and an interpreter to see the show free. "I think we try to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities," Stevens said. "I offered her any seat, any table, for any show, at no cost."

The commission has issued a ruling of probable cause, meaning that in the commission's opinion, it is probable that Stevens's club violated Ohio civil rights law by failing to provide the interpreter.

Stevens, who lives in Lansing, Mich., has hired a Columbus attorney to represent him. He has asked the civil rights commission to reconsider its position. If the commission holds its ground and the two sides can't re|solve their differences, the matter would become a formal complaint to the Ohio attorney general's office, according to Mark Kautz|mann, a commission spokesman. "This is just the start of the process," David Kessler, Mr. Stevens's attorney, said of the probable-cause ruling. "This is enough to at least have a hearing to determine the facts."

Francis Landry, an attorney who has represented plaintiffs in many workplace discrimination disputes, said Bisesi's complaint is groundbreaking because the issue is about one's ability to receive the full effect of a public performance.

But it also would likely uncork a surge of litigation to determine how much notice club and theater owners would need to accommodate patrons and how much burden they would legally have to bear.

David Patch is a writer with the Toledo Blade. Comment by clicking here.

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