Court rules ADA covers farmers markets

When Sherwood Clement inquired about becoming a food vendor at the South Boston Farmers Market in early 2010, he was told he needed to fill out an application, plant his own produce and pay a membership fee.

Farmers Market
Farmers Market

Despite having paralysis in his left arm and leg and “observable speaking difficulties” arising from a stroke several years prior, Clement proceeded to plant his produce. From January to June 2010, he called the farmers market twice a week. He received no reply and eventually filed a lawsuit alleging he had been discriminated against solely on the basis of his disability.

The Halifax County Farmer’s Market Association, which owns multiple farmers market nationwide, argued its business was not covered by the Americans with Disabilities’ provisions prohibiting discrimination in places of “public accommodation.”

In an opinion released February 28, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia disagreed, allowing the case to move forward to a bench trial.

“Title III (of the ADA) enumerates places of ‘public accommodation’ to include ‘a bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment’ so long as these establishments affect commerce,” the court stated in its opinion (link unavailable). “While a farmer’s market is not listed expressly in Title III, I find that a liberal construction of subsection…encapsulates a farmer’s market.”

As proof of a discriminatory intent, Clement alleges in the lawsuit that an employees of the Farmer’s Market Association said at an open meeting that Clement “can’t even go to the grocery store by himself,” implying he was unfit to work as a food vendor.

Clement also filed a racial discrimination claim, but the court dismissed this claim on the basis of Clement’s own admission that he believed the discrimination stemmed from his disability.