Americans with Disabilities Act

The high court clarified the reach of a key part of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in a case that has pitted disability rights advocates against the cruise industry. The law applied to foreign-flagged cruise ships in U.S. waters, except for regulating a vessel’s internal affairs, it said.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices overturned a lower-court ruling that foreign-flagged cruise ships are not covered by the law barring discrimination at places of public accommodation and in public transportation services.

The case had been closely followed by the multibillion-dollar cruise industry. About 10 million people a year take cruises and an estimated 54 million Americans have some type of disability.

The case involved a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. over three cruises that originated in 1998 and 1999 in Houston and that went to various foreign ports.

The ships at issue, the Norwegian Sea and the Norwegian Star, sail under the Bahamian flag. Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line is a unit of Star Cruises Ltd., a Malaysian-owned company and the world’s third largest cruise company.

The lawsuit was brought by three individuals with disabilities who use a wheelchair or electric scooter and two other individuals who were not disabled, but who accompanied those with the physical impairments.

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