EL PASO, Texas — Groups representing disabled movie fans filed a federal lawsuit against Dallas-based cinema chain Cinemark USA Inc. Wednesday for allegedly failing to provide access for wheelchairs in new theaters.

Plaintiffs in the suit filed in El Paso said Cinemark’s new stadium-seating theaters bar people in wheelchairs because they have stairs and no ramp access.

“Stadium seating is a new concept across the country so this lawsuit will have state and federal impact,” said Carri George, executive director of VOLAR Center for Independent Living, one of the plaintiffs named in the suit.

At a news conference in front of Cinemark’s new Tinseltown theater here, George said the theater does not provide access to people in wheelchairs and so was a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and a similar Texas law.

Cinemark view

“Absolutely not true,” said Randy Hester, Cinemark vice president for marketing, when asked if the theaters were in violation of the law. “Every step of the way our theaters are inspected and certified. We bend over backwards because this is important.”

He said Cinemark staffers help disabled customers into its theaters and provide them with seating in front of the screens.

Luis Enrique Chew, a coordinator with VOLAR who uses a wheelchair, said he attended a movie at the theater and was told to wheel himself in front of the seats. “You are right in front of the screen … You can only see the middle of the screen, there’s no way you can see the sides,” he said.

George said the lawsuit asks that the theaters be revamped to allow for people in wheelchairs to be seated where they can properly see the screen. It asks the court to fine the company $100 for every violation and $500 a day until the violations are corrected.

Construction halt sought

The plaintiffs also asked the court to stop Cinemark from going ahead with any new theater construction until it agrees to create adequate access for people with disabilities.

“We all hope this case will resonate around the country and that other theater companies will sit up and pay attention, that they will make appropriate changes,” said Jim Harrington, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

“People with wheelchairs have the right to go to the movies, and sit with family and friends, without being relegated to inferior, segregated seating,” he said.