By Charmaine Little
A certified scuba diving instructor and his dive buddy accused a certification group of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act when it allegedly restricted their certifications because of their physical conditions.
Craig Ress and Carl Cogdill filed suit against the Diveheart Foundation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Aug. 28.
They accused Diveheart of infringing their rights under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. They asked the court for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and damages “for denial of access to, and the full and equal enjoyment of, the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of Diveheart because plaintiffs’ scuba diving certificates issued by Diveheart were unjustifiably modified or revoked on the basis of plaintiffs’ disabilities,” according to the lawsuit.
Both are being represented by Rachel M. Weisberg of Equip for Equality and Matthew K. Handley of Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC.
Ress has spinal and lower limb irregularities stemming from his fight with cancer as a child. The condition allows him to be considered a person with a disability under the ADA, the suit said. Cogdill has T-4 paraplegia and is also considered a person with a disability, the suit said. He’s also a certified scuba diving buddy. He received that certification from an international scuba diving agency, the suit said.
Diveheart is an organization that aims to provide scuba diving resources to those with disabilities, the suit said.
Things went awry shortly after Diveheart certified Ress as an instructor in 2017, the suit said. In August 2018, the complaint said Ress took issue with Diveheart Founder President Jim Elliott and Tinamarie Hernandez, the organization’s executive director, for allegedly not properly overseeing the leadership for Diveheart Florida. He alleged the facility for the South Florida location was disorganized and didn’t use proper equipment.
Ress said Elliot responded by restricting his certification and listing his disability as a reason why. After that, Ress could not conduct trainings without a second certified instructor at hand, the suit said, which could essentially double the price for clients. Ress said it also resulted in him experiencing emotional distress and embarrassment, the suit said.
Cogdill became a certified dive buddy in 2018, the suit said, which allowed him to help people who instructed potential adaptive divers. His certification was revoked after he received a phone call in February 2019, the suit said. Elliot had called Cogdill to tell him that his Advanced Buddy certification was being pulled because of his disability, the suit said.
“This revocation was and is wholly unjustified,” said the complaint. “Mr. Cogdill met all of the standards to be an Advanced Dive Buddy prior to February 22, 2019 and continues to meet all of those standards today.”
He also said the revocation created emotional stress and embarrassment, the suit said.