Merrick brothers launch federal discrimination suit

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It was only after Max and Jake waited in line for Wings, and Jake lifted Max from his wheelchair to carry him up the short set of steps leading from the floor to the simulator, that a staffer came sprinting across the room, yelling at the Golds to stop, according to Max.

“She was yelling at my brother to put me down, put me down,” Max said. “She was yelling it was against company regulations, insurance.”

Max said her raised voice drew the attention of the roughly 250 to 300 people in the room, who stared at the scene that unfolded.

The Golds said a supervisor told them that Max could only use the simulator if he walked up the steps unaided. A heated discussion ensued.

“We tried to argue with her that this was like any ordinary day for my brother and I. My brother was trying to say this is something I always do for him,” Max said. “She was refusing to accept it.”

Jake said he tried to defend his brother.

“Max was very frustrated by this,” Jake said. “He doesn’t like being told he can’t do something everyone else can do ... He was unfortunately unsuccessful in getting his point across. The supervisor was uninterested in speaking to or hearing from Max.”

“They were unprepared,” Jake continued. “They were uneducated in how to properly assist people who are different. It came down to an ignorance of how to handle the situation properly without being offensive.”

The Golds then left the museum. When they returned home to Merrick, they decided to take legal action against the Smithsonian. Their attorney, Shawn Heller, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the Smithsonian, along with Pulseworks, LLC, a Georgia company that operates Wings under a contract with the Smithsonian, violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

Claire Brown, director of communication at the National Air and Space Museum, said the Smithsonian does not comment on pending litigation.

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