Court finds 'Millionaire' selection process discriminates

— A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit claiming ABC discriminates against disabled people who want to become contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

"We don't want to alter or make changes in the show, but we want to make it fair," Michael Lanham, attorney for people suing the network and the show's producers, said Wednesday. "All we want is for reasonable accommodations to be made."

A lower court judge concluded in 2000 that the Americans With Disabilities Act isn't broad enough to cover the show's telephone qualifying process.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta decided Tuesday that the lawsuit contained a valid claim that the show's touch-tone system violates the ADA. They likened the phone system to other "places of public accommodation" covered under the law.

"This decided a narrow legal issue. We are confident that in the end the litigation will show that our practices comply fully with all applicable laws," said ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover.

Miami's Center for Independent Living sued over the show's telephone system, which excludes hearing-impaired people and those who can't operate touch-tone phones.

Disability rights advocates say the network should use live operators or a different system for hearing-impaired callers. The show does not use voice-recognition software.

Under the ADA, people can sue for better access and legal fees but no money for compensation or damages.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in Miami for additional review.

The show's Web site says 100,000 people call the show every day the phone lines are open. Four percent clear the initial qualifying round by correctly answering five questions on a phone system requiring touch-tone responses. The show also selects contestants with auditions featuring a written test offered in various cities.

The network version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," hosted by Regis Philbin, ceased production in January and was not renewed for the fall, but a syndicated version with host Meredith Vieira is set to debut in September.


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