The law currently allows disabled individuals to file suit whenever they encounter a possible violation. But in the last year there have been attempts to introduce legislation that would allow businesses as many as 90 days to correct violations before a lawsuit could be filed.
The National Restaurant Assn. has signaled its support for such legislation, arguing in a statement for "a cooperative and more sensible approach" that would give restaurant owners time to modify their restaurants before a suit is filed.
Line dividers, a key complaint in the Taco Bell case, have been a particular source of trouble for the fast-food industry under the law. In 1998, Wendy's International Inc. agreed to remove or modify line dividers in all of its restaurants to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.
"At the time, we went back to all our existing store locations and made sure that any barriers to access were removed," said Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy's, which operates more than 6,600 restaurants.
Schalow, the Taco Bell spokeswoman, said the line dividers were legal and vital to handling a high volume of customers, although she said most of the company's newer restaurants would use a single, one-directional rail to direct traffic. In any case, she said, customers who can't negotiate the line dividers always have the option to leave the line and go directly to the counter.
The courts apparently have never definitively ruled on the issue of line dividers, although the Justice Department, which enforces the disabilities act, filed a brief in the Colorado case arguing that it was unacceptable to require disabled customers to cut in line.
"It is really, really embarrassing," Muegge said of the line dividers. "You are standing out and that is something we don't like. We want to just flow through with everyone else."