(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A special Justice Ministry division on Monday announced it is suing the Egged bus company for NIS 67.5 million for discrimination against disabled persons in a first-of-its-kind civil class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed by the Representative for Equality for Disabled Persons and two disabled persons in the name of 45,000 disabled people, was the first class-action lawsuit filed by any government agency.
In the case, the ministry also requested that the Jerusalem District Court issue an injunction requiring Egged to comply with laws defending the rights to disabled persons.
Usually class-action lawsuits by a large number of plaintiffs claiming to be similarly harmed, often by a large company, are filed only by private law firms and their individual clients.
The class-action lawsuit provides for the equality representative and two other government agencies to file a class-action case, but none of the agencies had ever done so before.
Technically served on Egged on Thursday, the ministry waited to publicize the lawsuit to the media until Monday to ensure that Egged was not disputing whether it had been properly served.
According to the lawsuit, the main complaint is that Egged’s buses, on a wide systematic basis, often lack an intercom system that could direct disabled persons through their bus travels.
The case claims that Egged “systematically” violates the law against discrimination against disabled persons by failing to have operating intercoms at its bus stops and on its buses.
The basis for the case is a large volume of complaints made by disabled persons as well as observations made by the ministry itself doing a large number of spot checks of the bus system.
In the spot checks, the ministry found that Egged had “violated the law on a wide and ongoing basis” in 156 out of 570 spots – meaning 30% of bus areas checked did not have an operating intercom system.
Under the law prohibiting discriminating against disabled persons, buses must “be accessible” in a variety of ways to the disabled including intercom systems in order to guarantee their basic right to travel.
The representative for equality for disabled persons Avrami Torem said the lawsuit was filed to prevent continuation of the current situation in which “the absence of access harms the right to dignity and freedom of travel” of disabled persons.
Torem added that “there is no one-time malfunction which can explain such a large volume of defects in access over such a large period. Egged is a central and substantial player in public transportation in Israel causing its violations to have greater consequences for thousands of Israeli citizens.”
According to reports, Egged denied the allegations, asserting that there was no systematic issue and only a regular limited number of instances of malfunctions which the company fixes on a regular basis.