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Jury: United discriminated against woman confined to wheelchair

September 11, 1997

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ A federal jury Wednesday found that United Airlines discriminated against a woman confined to a wheelchair by denying her access to an airplane bathroom.

The U.S. District Court jury awarded $500 to Alice Conway, 37, of Auburn. Punitive damages against the airline were to be considered Thursday, but the Portland Press Herald reported both parties reached an out-of-court settlement Wednesday afternoon.

Conway sued the airline for unspecified damages for failing to comply with federal laws governing travel by the disabled.

Conway, an author and advocate for the disabled, claims she was left sitting on the plane for an hour prior to takeoff and could not go to the bathroom during a flight from Mexico City to Chicago three years ago.

During the trial this week, Conway testified that she ``felt like crying″ and felt dirty and humiliated after she soiled herself.

Conway suffers from spinal bifida and because of her medical condition, her urine drains into a pouch. Conway testified that when she asked a flight attendant for help getting to the bathroom, she was informed that there was no on-board wheelchair and she would have to stay in her seat.

Conway said she offered to crawl to the bathroom _ she has limited use of her legs _ but the flight attendant told her that was illegal and she would be arrested if she did.

The flight attendant eventually gave her a blanket and a bottle to urinate into while she was seated.

Conway sued under the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which requires, among other things, that all planes that have more than 60 seats carry a wheelchair and that wheelchairs be delivered to the gate after the flight.

United’s attorney, David Norman, and Conway’s lawyer, Michael Nelson, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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