By LAURIE ASSEO
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will decide whether disabled golfer Casey Martin has a legal right to ride in a golf cart between shots at Professional Golfers’ Association Tour events.
The court said today it will hear the tour’s argument that a federal anti-bias law does not apply to Martin’s case.
A federal appeals court ruled last spring that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the PGA Tour to waive its requirement that players walk the golf course during tournaments.
Martin has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk long distances. The disorder, a congenital vascular condition, is called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome.
Martin sued the PGA Tour in 1997, citing a provision of the ADA that bans discrimination on the basis of disability "in the full enjoyment of … facilities … of any place of public accommodation." The law’s definition of public accommodation includes recreational places such as golf courses.
A federal judge ruled for Martin, saying that allowing him to use a golf cart would not "fundamentally alter" the nature of PGA Tour events.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last March. "Providing Martin with a golf cart would not give him an unfair advantage over his competitors," said the court, based in San Francisco.
The next day, a Chicago-based federal appeals court ruled the other way in a similar case. Indiana golfer Ford Olinger sued the U.S. Golf Association for the right to ride a cart in the U.S. Open, but the appeals court decided that letting him use a cart would change the nature of competition.
In the appeal acted on Monday, the PGA Tour’s lawyers said the 9th Circuit court’s decision "bars the tour from requiring that all competitors at its events play by the same rules."
"So far as we are aware, no court has ever before held that a professional sport must waive a legitimate competitive rule to enable a would-be participant, disabled or not, to more successfully compete," the tour’s lawyers said.
The tour’s lawyers also said the ruling would open the door to workplace discrimination lawsuits by independent contractors and other non-employees.
Martin’s lawyers said golf "is not a race against the clock or against human endurance" and that allowing him to use a cart would not affect the competition. A ruling for the PGA Tour would allow professional sports to exempt themselves from the ADA, his lawyers added.
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