CALIF. GROUP SUES MACY’S WEST FOR BETTER ACCESS BY DISABLED
Byline: Vicki M. Young
NEW YORK — Californians for Disability Rights has sued Macy’s West on behalf of shoppers who want the retailer to widen its aisles to accommodate their wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
The class-action suit, filed earlier this month in federal court in San Francisco, is the third filed against Macy’s West on the same issue, according to Larry Paradis, lead counsel for all three suits and executive director of Disabled Rights Advocates, based in Oakland, Calif.
Paradis said Friday in a phone interview that Macy’s, along with its parent, Federated Department Stores, is “trying to defend the indefensible by excluding disabled shoppers from shopping at the stores.” Federated is not a defendant in any of the suits.
All three suits involve a requirement under the federal 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act stating that “readily achievable” steps be taken to provide easier access to public facilities.
Paradis said both federal and California state law require aisle space of 36 inches.
“While the main aisle space is generally wider, except at Christmas and New Year’s, the problem all year round is there is not enough aisle space between racks within each department,” Paradis said. “The average aisle space between racks is 20 inches,” he added.
More space, Paradis observed, would give shoppers who wheelchairs, scooters and walkers easier access. Shoppers with strollers and bulky packages also would benefit.
In response to the suit, Kurtis J. Kearl, associate counsel for Federated, said in a statement that shortly after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act the retailer “initiated a program to identify and remove barriers to access.”
The statement added that following Macy’s emergence from bankruptcy proceedings, “the company has expended nearly $3 million implementing a comprehensive ADA compliance program.”
The latest suit is against 83 Macy’s West stores in California.
The first suit, filed in June 1996 in federal court in San Francisco, is against Macy’s West’s Union Square location. The case has been classified as a class-action suit. A trial on the issues began June 9, but the trial is adjourned until June 25.
Kearl noted the federal district court judge overseeing the Union Square suit recently ruled that the disabilities act’s 36-inch-aisle requirement did not apply to movable merchandise racks, where most of Macy’s merchandise is displayed.
Kearl also said the act exempts retailers from requirements to remove barriers if such a step would result in a “significant loss of selling space,” which would reduce the quantity and variety of merchandise available to all Macy’s customers.
A second class-action suit was filed against Macy’s West in November 1996 in federal court in Sacramento, Calif. A trial is expected to start next year, noted Paradis.