A JMU student registered as an individual with disabilities is considering legal action against The Retreat, an off-campus housing complex in Harrisonburg, for allegedly mistreating him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gregory Mather, a senior psychology major, experiences chronic pain due to a neck fracture and requires accommodations that include a handicap parking spot and parking for his family and friends who assist him with basic tasks within the confines of his apartment.
Mather, who cites specific instances dating back to September, has been in contact with JMU’s office of Off-Campus Life as well as a lawyer to discuss his situation. JL Towing & Recovery, the towing company for The Retreat, towed Mather’s car from his designated handicap parking space on Dec. 8 and 9. According to Mather, he’d been in contact with The Retreat to inform it of his disability. Additionally, Mather claims he asked for a second parking decal in October. He eventually received one, but not until after his car was towed twice.
According to a spokesperson for Landmark Properties, Mather was incorrectly towed on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 from his handicap parking spot because he was parked next to his handicap spot. This is due to the fact that someone else had parked in his designated parking space. The towing company was immediately contacted and offered a full refund to Mather, which he later accepted. Prior to Dec. 13, Mather only had one parking decal, meaning his designated caretaker would be unable to park outside his property. In turn, Mather had to transfer his decal to his caretaker’s to avoid wrongful towing.
According to Mather, he’s only allowed to park in his handicap spot but his neighbors repeatedly parked there, despite the painted handicap symbol. Mather was instructed by Whittney Nauman, resident services manager for The Retreat, to “just call and have them towed away so you can have your spot back,” over email.
Mather’s car contained materials needed for his doctoral application, and according to him, the car’s absence was the reason he was unable to submit his application by the deadline. Mather now has to wait until next year to submit the application.
According to a spokesperson for Landmark Properties, the maintenance team created a handicap spot for Mather in front of his property within 48 hours of being made aware of his disability. The spokesperson also claims a handicap sign was placed at the head of the parking space three weeks after the request for a handicap parking spot was made; however, there’s not a sign present.
“We place great value on the everyday living experiences of residents in our community, and we’re disappointed that Mr. Mather has been dissatisfied during his time at The Retreat,” a Landmark Properties spokesperson said over email. “Since his initial outreach, our resident support team has been working closely with him to quickly respond to his requests. We take these concerns seriously, and we will continue to do our best to meet Mr. Mather’s needs as a resident in our community.”
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Establishments included in this clause involve hotels, restaurants and similar facilities.
“There’s not any direct action we can take other than providing advice,” Jeremy Hawkins, assistant director of OCL, said. “Whenever a student, parent or anyone reaches out to our office with concerns about a property, we do reach out to that property with permission to let them know that we’ve been made aware of the situation, just to see if there’s anything we can do on our side to help facilitate things.”
According to Mather, the regional manager for The Retreat ignored his communication efforts for over a month until he got a lawyer involved. He notified The Retreat of his decision to seek legal assistance and explained he had a claim under the ADA. He heard back from the complex almost immediately afterward.
“She said she wanted to have a dialogue regarding how to ‘make things right,’” Mather said. “Which I had been trying to do for quite some time. I had reached out to her boss, the managers under her, and I only got leeway when I talked to a lawyer. I told her what I want, which is first and foremost a change in policy so it doesn’t happen again.”
Mather was offered a gift card reimbursement for gas, the Ubers he took to retrieve his car and his legal fees, which exceeded several hundred dollars. Despite the restorative efforts, Mather was adamant that there needs to be a change in how The Retreat handles its residents with disabilities. As of now, Mather has declined the gift card.
“The only thing that would help me at this point is a time machine,” Mather said. “No amount of money will open my doctoral applications back up and give me my books when I need them. The only thing I’m interested in is a change in policy.”
According to Mather, Anita Arnold, the regional manager from The Retreat, went back on her initial arrangement to instate a policy change that Mather and the regional manager had agreed upon. Instead, Mather was offered a “review of the correspondence” between himself and the towing company. Furthermore, Mather was also asked to comply with an “extensive” non-disclosure agreement. He decided not to sign the proposed non-disclosure agreement because The Retreat offered no policy change.
“They don’t believe me,” Mather said. “I walk. I don’t look disabled. I spent many years in physical therapy to get here. The person who towed my car called me a liar. There’s a disconnect between what they see and the documentation I’m providing them from the state of Virginia and from my doctor, clearly outlining cervical fractures and five surgeries. They can’t see chronic pain.”
Contact Connor Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.