Trouble at the Mall: Retailers Face New Challenges with ADA Compliance
Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado found 248 Hollister brand stores around the country in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). These stores used a raised front porch at the store entrance that is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. The case (Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, et al. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., et al., No. 09-cv-02757-WYD-KMT, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31645 (D. Colo. March 7, 2013)) was originally brought in 2009 by two Coloradans who claimed discrimination at Denver-area Hollister stores. A class action was certified in April 2012 to include all people who use wheelchairs for mobility and were denied equal access at any Hollister Co. store in the United States over the last two years due to the raised front porch. Each of the stores in question contained a secondary accessible entrance to the side of the raised porch entrance, which the Court deemed smaller and inferior to the main inaccessible entrance. Finally, in an August 2013 ruling, the Court ordered Hollister to make its stores accessible by 2017, at a rate of 77 stores per year, by either leveling out stairs at entrances, installing ramps, or closing off stairway entrances entirely.
So what does this mean for retailers? The Hollister case highlights the potential difficulties companies face in complying with the ADA. Simply providing an accessible entrance does not guarantee compliance. Based on the Court’s ruling, an alternative, accessible entrance cannot be qualitatively different or inferior to the inaccessible entrance. Furthermore, with new construction after 2010, the standards are even stricter, requiring that any space that is accessible to non-disabled customers also be accessible to customers in wheelchairs. Although the stores in the case provided alternative accessible entrances, the visual impression of a decorated inaccessible entrance in the center with smaller, inferior accessible entrances to each side was enough for the Court (and the Department of Justice, which filed a Statement of Interest in the case) to consider the accessible entrance inferior to the main entrance and thus in violation of the ADA. Based on the outcome of this case, retailers who fall under the ADA (which covers all facilities designed and constructed after January 26, 1993) should act with care to ensure that accessible entrances are not inferior to any inaccessible entrances.