SAN FRANCISCO—On Wednesday, July 21, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced they are launching an investigation into reports of possibly illegitimate lawsuits targeting Chinatown merchants.  There have been reports that lawyers sent out potentially fraudulent suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and exploited the law to extort small business owners into paying them. Members of the District Attorney’s Office attended a town hall in Chinatown, where concerns were voiced by Chinatown merchants.

“We have received reports of frivolous lawsuits intentionally targeting small businesses in Chinatown—often owned by monolingual immigrants—that attempt to undermine the ADA by using it to extort settlements rather than vindicating disability rights,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “We will not tolerate exploitation of the Chinese community or any business owners.  We know that Chinese merchants are no more likely to violate the ADA than any other business owner and we take these allegations very seriously.  We encourage anyone who believes they have been fraudulently targeted to reach out to our office as we launch our investigation.”

Also at the press conference was Edward Siu, Chairman of the Chinatown Merchants United Association of San Francisco; Chinese Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Au; Chinese Chamber of Commerce Vice President Donald Luu; and Hene Kelly, Former Chair of the Disability Caucus of the California Democratic Party and Vice President of the California Alliance for Retired Americans.

“The Chinatown Merchants United Association appreciates how quickly the District Attorney’s Office has responded in setting up a special investigation and recognizing the seriousness of this situation,” said Edward Siu, Chairman of the Chinatown Merchants United Association of San Francisco. “The lawsuits target hardworking, monolingual, mom-and-pop stores located in the country’s oldest and largest Chinatown. Many are still struggling through this pandemic. I join DA Boudin in emphasizing that people should abide by ADA regulations, but exploiting the ADA to scam small business owners in our city is not acceptable.”

“These types of lawsuits are very upsetting and they do not work to improve access for the disabled community,” said Sascha Bittner, San Francisco Disability and Aging Services  Commissioner and incoming Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party Disabilities Caucus.  “It is especially upsetting that these lawsuits are being brought against the Chinese community, as businesses are re-opening after the pandemic and as there has been so much discrimination already against this community. I am so glad that the District Attorney is committed to protecting the Chinese American community and to working with the disabled community to improve laws so that there can be access for all disabled community members.”

The reports indicate the lawsuits targeted small businesses in Chinatown, a community impacted economically by the pandemic and a surge of xenophobia and racism.

Through this investigation, the SF District Attorney’s Office is aiming to uphold the value of the ADA, which ensures that people living with disabilities receive the respect and access they deserve in all aspects of life.  The District Attorney’s Office seeks to promote compliance with the ADA and is working to consult with leaders in the disability rights community as it moves forward.

For more details on ADA compliance visit the Mayor’s Office on Disability’s website. Anyone who believes they have been victimized by fraud should reach out to the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection and Fraud hotline at 628-652-4311.