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Disability Rights Group Files ADA Suit Against Wal-Mart

July 25, 2012

News source: Law.com

A legal advocacy group filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in San Francisco federal court [on] Wednesday [July 25], alleging that the retailing giant discriminates against wheelchair users by placing check-out machines too high and out of reach.

"Because many customers who use wheelchairs and scooters cannot easily view, reach and use Wal-Mart's [POS: point-of-sale] terminals securely and independently, they must often process their transactions without knowing the information displayed on the POS viewscreen," Kevin Knestrick of Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates wrote in the complaint.

According to the lead plaintiffs, the current set-up in some Wal-Mart stores in California requires disabled customers to give their PIN numbers to cashiers to complete transactions.

Laurence Paradis, executive director at Disability Rights Advocates, said the potential class size is in the thousands, and that the plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], as well as statutory damages under state law. Paradis said that similar cases filed in California have netted anywhere from several to $10 million, but noted that the Wal-Mart class has yet to be certified by the Northern District. For now, the case is limited to California residents, but Paradis said that he's learning that Wal-Mart stores across the country have similar access barriers, and that the ADA claims could well go national.

"Wal-Mart's stubborn refusal to meet its customers' needs and provide point-of-sale terminals that consumers with disabilities can use independently goes directly against the central purpose and underlying intent of the ADA," said Knestrick in a statement.

According to the complaint, lawyers first approached Wal-Mart about this issue in 2005 and invited Wal-Mart to participate in structured settlement negotiations to resolve the concerns, but Wal-Mart declined. Paradis said Disability Rights Advocates isn't planning on suing any other retailers with similar POS machine setups, but instead hopes that the case's resolution will "change the whole industry practice."

The plaintiffs are also represented by lawyers from Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund [DREDF], as well as Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson in Oakland.

In a statement, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said the company has "deep respect" for its customers and takes ADA allegations seriously.

"Our goal is that every POS machine be accessible within the [regulations] and guidelines of the ADA and [California] law," she said.

The case is Center for Independent Living v. Wal-Mart, CV 12 3885.

More information: Wal-Mart Sued (www.SFGate.com)


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