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Gazette Premium Content UNL pays $20K to settle disabled parking lawsuit

Associated Press Updated: January 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has agreed to pay a disabled Lincoln man $20,000 to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the university of illegally closing down handicapped parking stalls on campus during home football games.

Richard Norton Jr. sued the university in 2012 after he said he was not allowed to park in a handicapped stall outside of the University of Nebraska State Museum during Nebraska's Oct. 30, 2010, home football game.

The settlement was reached in December, said Norton's attorney, Kathleen Neary of Lincoln, and a judge dismissed the lawsuit Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, Norton had gone to the museum with his two children to visit an exhibit, but the signs marking the two handicapped stalls just outside the museum had been covered with hoods, and he was told by a university employee that the spots were being held for university donors.

Tailgaters occupied the handicapped stalls, Neary said.

The lawsuit accused the university worker of ridiculing and harassing Norton, who was told he would have to park in a handicapped stall several blocks away. Norton drove to the other lot, but was told when he pulled in that he would have to pay $15 to park in one of the lot's handicapped stalls.

After protesting, Norton was told he could park free for two hours but that his car would be towed if he returned to the lot "even one minute late," the lawsuit said.

Norton, who has suffered from a neurological and orthopedic disability since birth, said the longer walk to and from the museum caused him extreme pain in his legs and feet for which he had to seek medical treatment.

Norton filed a complaint in 2011 with the federal Office for Civil Rights, which concluded that there was enough evidence to believe the university had violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Neary said Norton sued after university officials promised him that the parking problem would be remedied before Nebraska's first home game in 2012, but he found instead that the same handicapped stalls had again been closed off to those with disabilities.

"I think what is most substantial here is that ... he stood up and opposed the illegal actions of the university," Neary said Thursday. "As much as we love Husker football, the football program and the university are not above the law."

The university did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

University spokesman Steve Smith said Thursday that university officials declined to comment on the settlement.

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