A BIG SCAM . . . LEGAL EXTORTION' FORMER MANAGER OF RESTAURANT SAYS
HE WAS SHOCKED BY LAWSUIT.
South Florida Sun - Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Aug 26, 2001;
Bob LaMendola, Shannon O'Boye and Sally Kestin Staff Writers; (Copyright
2001 by the Sun-Sentinel)
Saladino was shocked when his former employer was sued by a man
in a wheelchair who called the Italian restaurant inaccessible.
lawsuit filed in September portrayed Zuckerello's as an obstacle
course for the disabled. No parking spaces. Barriers at the entrance.
Counter too high. Restroom too small for a wheelchair. No restroom
grab bars. Improper faucet handles. Toilet, soap dispenser, towel
dispenser -- all too high.
a paraplegic in a wheelchair, had seen none of those problems during
the four years he was a manager of the Fort Lauderdale pizza shop.
More than a year earlier, he had supervised a renovation to create
a large disabled-access restroom.
I can say is, it's a big scam. This is legal extortion," said
Saladino, 47, who is on leave from the restaurant to care for an
a big advocate for the disabled. It is frustrating when you go somewhere
and there's no bathroom or a big curb and you can't get in,"
said Saladino, who was paralyzed by a gunshot during a 1997 argument
with a Coral Springs neighbor.
this is ridiculous. I never had trouble getting around in there.
Nobody ever did. We had wheelchair customers, disabled customers,
all the time."
Zuckerello's suit was one of 13 filed against businesses on the
same day -- with identical wording -- by Carlisle Wilson, a quadriplegic,
and his lawyers, William Tucker and Lawrence McGuinness.
owner Adam Zucker said he settled the suit in three months by making
about $200 to correct minor violations and paying Wilson's attorneys
$3,700 in legal fees.
lawyer told me, if you want to defend it in court, you're going
to win, but it's going to cost you $10,000," Zucker said. "So
I paid [Tucker] and it went away. That's what they were counting
said the Zuckerello suit had merit, although he can't remember what
was wrong there. The fact that Saladino had no trouble is irrelevant.
"That's fine and well, but does that cover the deaf person
or the deaf mute?" Wilson said. "This isn't about that
one person working at that one restaurant. A person who's a paraplegic
and can't move from the waist down, I don't even consider them disabled.
They're impaired a little bit. They're uncomfortable.
a quadriplegic. My fingers don't work. And I think the blind guy
is more disabled than me and on down the line."
Tucker declined to comment. Attempts to reach McGuinness with five
calls and a visit to his office were unsuccessful.
after the suit arrived, Zucker set up a meeting with Tucker. The
attorney and an aide arrived at the restaurant at 3017 E. Commercial
Blvd. with a tape measure, ready to chart violations of the federal
disability rights law.
was surprised to see me," Saladino said.
went straight to the bathroom, but found it accessible. The parking
was fine. He pressed Zucker to lower the height of the restaurant's
bar but backed off when Zucker refused.
the end, Zucker said both sides agreed on four restroom changes:
Lowering grab bars and sink by a few inches, posting a sign at the
door and wrapping knee-protecting insulation around sink pipes.
took care of everything in two days," Saladino said. Paying
the attorneys' bill took two months.
Zucker: "I told [Tucker], `Why did you sue me?' If you send
me a letter and tell me a handicapped person was in the bathroom
and had a hard time getting into the bathroom, I would have fixed
said, `This is not the way it works.'"
LaMendola can be reached at email@example.com or 954-
Supervised renovation: Thomas Saladino, a paraplegic, uses the entrance
sidewalk and ramp at Zuckerello's. He is on leave as manager of
the Fort Lauderdale pizza restaurant to care for an ill relative.
Saladino was working at the restaurant when it was sued by activists
who charged it was not accessible to the disabled.