“It’s Hip to be Square,” a take-off on the TV game show Hollywood Squares, was how attorneys Sean Doyle and Michael Ortiz of Ortiz & Schick provided education training for a large client this year.
“It was a fun way to get across some Fair Housing Act information to employees of one of our large property management clients.”
It is representative of the challenge Doyle faces when walking a tightrope between the clients the firm represents and individuals with needs protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Doyle says 75 percent of his practice involves the ADA and the FHA.
“I deal with landlords and employers in both an advisory and a representative capacity. When I become involved to defend a complaint, it’s typically because an employee or a resident has made a reasonable accommodation request that wasn’t granted or because someone feels they were discriminated against because of his or her disability,” explained Doyle.
“All the clients I work with want to do the right thing for their clients or residents. It’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to meet everyone’s needs.
“I like to be able to head off problems before they start. I am often involved in an advisory role before there is a complaint filed. During that period, we are usually able to reach a resolution that is satisfactory to everyone, and that leaves everyone better off than when they started, which is certainly a rarity in pre-suit settlement negotiations. With regard to reasonable accommodation and modification requests, it’s often a balancing act for my clients – we want to make sure that the residents or employees are taken care of and that their disability needs are being met, but at the same time we have to protect the company’s interests and make sure that we don’t lose sight of the ‘reasonable’ component of accommodation and modification requests.
“I get a great deal of satisfaction when I am able to ensure that the goals and needs of all parties are achieved. Similarly, I get a great deal of satisfaction in helping clients draft policies and implement guidelines that will ensure that the objectives of the ADA and the FHA are met. It’s a win-win for me.”
“One of the hottest areas of disability law right now is the use of assistance animals, which is definitely a tricky area of law. Particularly given that there are several federal acts – with different requirements – governing those requests. For instance, while the ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, when you start talking about the FHA and the Air Carrier Access Act, the sky is the limit.
“I’ve certainly seen some bizarre requests, such as requests for a therapy pig or an emotional support snake. There are many people who have a legitimate need for an assistance animal. But unfortunately, there are also some people who will try to game the system to get their pet fees waived at an apartment complex or even travel on an airplane with their assistance animal.
“And the internet makes it very easy to get official looking ‘proof ’ of a disability-related need for an assistance animal. The problem is that anyone can get these documents just by filling out a form and paying a fee online. In fact, just to show how easy it is to get one of these assistance animal certificates, we went out and bought a certificate for an emotional support ferret.”
Parks and Recreation
Free time for Doyle is spent outside with his wife Emily, and their two boys – Liam, 6, and Caleb, 2.
“Work is crazy, and it keeps me incredibly busy, so when the weekend rolls around I love to get outdoors with my wife and my boys. We love to get out to Umstead Park on a Saturday morning and hike.”
Additionally, Doyle discovered rowing a number of years ago and joined the Raleigh Rowing Club, which practices on Lake Wheeler. Doyle rows in doubles and quads teams. “I like the difficulty and the effort. When you are rowing with other people, you have to be in sync.”
“When I row in a quad, it’s kind of like here at work where there are multiple attorneys,” said Doyle. “We are all individuals with different backgrounds, personalities and strengths, but we all have a shared goal. We aim to hit complete client satisfaction. By capitalizing on each of our strengths, we are able to achieve that goal.”