Ippuku sued for alleged discrimination against customer in wheelchair

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Lianne Frick/Staff

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Ippuku, a Japanese dining bar located in Downtown Berkeley, has been sued for disability discrimination after allegedly denying access to a prospective customer who uses a wheelchair.

Patricia Berne, who filed the complaint, alleges that Ippuku employees refused to take reservations for wheelchair users until 9 p.m. because of a “company policy” that was intended to “deter patronage by disabled persons.”

Berne alleges Ippuku’s policy is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and denies her “rights to full and equal access” under state and federal law.

“The Restaurant refused to serve Plaintiff because the facility was not, and is not now, properly accessible to physically disabled persons, including those who use wheelchairs,” the suit reads. “Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to require Defendants to alter their ‘company policy’ to treat customers with disabilities equally to those without.”

Ippuku could not be reached for comment on the suit.

Berne alleges that she had scheduled a dinner days in advance for 7:30 p.m. at Ippuku to celebrate a friend’s birthday. When Berne called to confirm her reservation, the lawsuit states, the restaurant asked Berne to reschedule her reservation for 8 p.m.

During this call, Berne alleges that she told the restaurant representative on the phone there was a member in her party that was disabled who used a wheelchair. The suit alleges that the Ippuku employee replied the restaurant “would not take reservations for wheelchair users until after 9 p.m,” which was “company policy.”

“Plaintiff was shocked and dismayed, and had to call her friend and tell him that they had to find some other venue to celebrate his 44th birthday,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result of her exclusion from the Restaurant, Plaintiff suffered physical, mental and emotional damages.”

The lawsuit also alleges Ippuku is “physically and illegally inaccessible for disabled persons in multiple ways,” citing the restaurant’s pathways, seating and restroom as unaccommodating to disabled customers.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff requests for Ippuku to end its alleged discriminatory policy, ensure its facilities are fully accessible to all customers and train its employees to identify and accommodate the needs of disabled persons.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund staff attorney Silvia Yee said the law clearly states restaurants need to be accessible to people with disabilities.

“It’s good business to be accessible,” Yee said. “If you’re accessible, you get more people.”

Contact Jamari Snipes at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JamariSnipes.