The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey has refused to dismiss a disability discrimination lawsuit challenging Six Flags Theme Park Inc.’s new ridership rules, allowing the case to proceed to a jury.
“Six Flags has failed to meet its burden in establishing that the ridership requirements it has imposed for the (vast) majority of the rides at Great Adventure are a legitimate safety requirement,” the Court wrote, in a decision dated December 31.
Joseph Masci has two full legs, but is missing the upper sections of both feet, though he can still do modest running and jumping activities, as described in the Court’s opinion. He is also missing his right arm above the elbow, and has a shortened left forearm. He uses a prosthetic device for his right arm.
In 2011, Six Flags revamped its ridership requirements following a tragedy at Darien Lake amusement park in Buffalo, New York, where an Iraq war veteran, who had lost both his legs, died when he fell from a roller coaster.
Six Flags conducted a nationwide audit, where it required manufacturers of certain rides to provide new service bulletins, detailing the manufacturer’s determinations of what ridership restrictions are warranted to protect public safety. For other attractions, Six Flags required that riders have at least one fully formed arm and one fully formed leg.
In April 2012, Masci, then 14 years old, was denied participation at all but two rides at Six Flags Great Adventure, in Jackson, New Jersey.
“Instead of getting on the ride I was escorted to the side and I could see all of the staff members whispering to each other as they secretly tried to glance at my arms and legs,” Masci told the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I was so angry and I did not understand why I was not able to go on the same rides I had gone on for years.”
Masci and his parents filed a lawsuit in 2012, arguing that the restrictions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The Court found that Six Flags failed to provide evidence establishing why the new requirements were necessary. As the Court saw it, a more individualized assessment of the safety risks to each rider is necessary to comply with federal and state law.
“Such a blanket approach to ridership requirements of rides with varying levels of risk (from ‘mild’ to ‘high thrill’) certainly insinuates the imposition of such requirements was based on ‘mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities’ rather than actual risk,” the Court wrote.