LOS ANGELES — A California judge ruled Tuesday that the Mervyn’s department store chain doesn’t have to expand its aisles to ease shopping for disabled customers.

This story first appeared in the November 6, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Hayward, Calif.-based Mervyn’s, a unit of Target Corp., argued that it would lose $30 million a year in profit and shut stores if it had to remove goods from floor space in its 126 California doors.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry E. Needham Jr. agreed in his ruling that a chainwide reconfiguration would create a “competitive disadvantage” for the retailer. Needham said Mervyn’s was providing “adequate physical access” to its merchandise “80 to 85 percent of the time.”

The decision is a setback for advocates of the disabled, who had sued Mervyn’s.

“We’re disappointed. Mervyn’s is a big company and they could do more,” said Monica Goracke, an attorney for Californians for Disability Rights, the Sacramento-based advocacy group that filed the lawsuit, seeking to widen all pathways to 32 inches. Goracke said the group is considering an appeal.

In a statement, Mervyn’s said it was “pleased” with the ruling.

Given that last year, Macy’s West was required by a federal court order to improve access for the disabled, the decision is a small victory for retailers.

“This a precedent and there’s breathing room,” said George Whalin, owner of Retail Management Consultants in San Marcos, Calif.

Still, he notes, the “ambiguity” of the Americans With Disabilities Act means the lawsuits won’t stop.

Attorneys say interpretations of the law will most likely rest on balancing the equities of both parties.

“As I understood it, [Mervyn’s] is in substantial compliance — they’ve reasonably accommodated shoppers — and they don’t have to be in perfect compliance,” said Stan Levy, a labor attorney with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “Otherwise, it would be so costly to retailers that they might not survive.”

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