Handley Farah & Anderson and Equip for Equality filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of two accomplished scuba divers with disabilities, whose certifications were revoked or altered by The Diveheart Foundation (“Diveheart”), a scuba diving school for persons with disabilities headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois.
Diveheart offers scuba training courses, including an Adaptive Diver Course (for persons with disabilities wishing to learn to learn how to scuba dive), an Adaptive Dive Buddy Course (for divers wishing to learn how to assist in the training of divers with disabilities) and an Adaptive Instructor Course (for persons wishing to serve as an instructor of divers with disabilities).
Plaintiffs Dr. Craig Ress and Carl Cogdill are persons with disabilities and are both skilled adaptive scuba divers. Dr. Ress and Mr. Cogdill advanced through Diveheart’s courses, with Dr. Ress becoming an Adaptive Instructor in 2017 and Mr. Cogdill an Advanced Dive Buddy in 2018. After obtaining these certifications, both Dr. Ress trained more than 20 adaptive divers and Mr. Cogdill served as an Adaptive Dive Buddy on at least 15 occasions.
In September 2018, Diveheart abruptly placed restrictions on Dr. Ress’s certification, barring him from conducting adaptive diver trainings without the presence of a second certified professional Diveheart adaptive instructor, citing his disability as the reason for such restriction. Diveheart subsequently revoked Mr. Cogdill’s certification, also citing his disability. Such actions were taken although both Dr. Ress and Mr. Cogdill had consistently and fully performed all of the requirements associated with their certifications.
Requiring a second certified professional Diveheart adaptive instructor to accompany Dr. Ress at trainings has effectively eliminated Dr. Ress’ ability to be hired as an instructor, since a “two certified professional Diveheart adaptive instructor” rule typically means double the pricing for any student wishing to use his services. For Mr. Cogdill, too, revocation of his certification has caused him pain and embarrassment, as he is no longer able to act as a Diveheart-trained Adaptive Dive Buddy or explain to diving friends and colleagues why his certification was revoked.
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability. Diveheart’s unjustified action has required Dr. Ress and Mr. Cogdill to file this lawsuit to protect their rights to be free from such discrimination, as attempts to reach a resolution with Diveheart prior to filing suit were not successful. The lawsuit seeks an order from the court that Diveheart’s actions were unlawful and Dr. Ress’s and Mr. Cogdill’s certifications should be restored. The lawsuit also seeks damages caused by Diveheart’s discriminatory actions.
Commenting on Diveheart’s actions, Plaintiffs’ counsel Rachel Weisberg of Equip for Equality said, “The ADA and Illinois Human Rights Act guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. Diveheart’s actions deny these opportunities to persons with disabilities, needlessly and cruelly branding them as not worthy of equal consideration. We hope this lawsuit has a widespread impact and confirms that people with disabilities have equal opportunity under the law.”
Plaintiffs’ counsel Matthew Handley added, “It is particularly shocking that an organization such as Diveheart, which prides itself on training persons with disabilities, would disallow the same community on whose behalf it claims to act from advancing through its courses. Dr. Ress and Mr. Cogdill have demonstrated that they are fully qualified for the certifications they obtained, and any revocation or altering of those certifications is both unwarranted and illegal.”
If you have any questions concerning this case please contact Matthew Handley at 202-559-2411 or [email protected]; or Rachel Weisberg at 312-895-7319 or [email protected] A copy of the complaint can be found here: https://www.equipforequality.org/files/diveheart.pdf.
About Handley Farah & Anderson
Handley Farah & Anderson are lawyers who seek to improve the world. Based in Washington, D.C., they fight for: workers deprived of wages, consumers deceived about products, tenants denied access to housing, farmers mistreated by processors, parents deprived of adequate parental leave, investors who were defrauded, small businesses harmed by antitrust violations, persons with disabilities denied access, whistleblowers who uncover fraud, and women and communities of color subject to discrimination.
About Equip for Equality
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit entity designated in 1985 by the Governor to administer the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy system for safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities in Illinois. EFE is dedicated to expanding opportunities for people with disabilities to live full and independent lives by providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigations. For more information, go to www.equipforequality.org