This past week Kmart offered a $13 million blue light special — but its owner, Sears Holding, was not too pleased. The beleaguered retailer settled a class action lawsuit brought by disabled shoppers over the issue of the accessibility of their stores. Under the agreement, which will cost the company $13 million, Kmart is given 7.5 years to bring its stores into compliance with federal standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act with regard to merchandise, counters, restrooms, fitting rooms and parking lots. Of the total award, $8 million will be in cash awards, and $5 million in gift cards. Plaintiffs in 7 states will benefit from the settlement: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Texas. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Amy F. Robertson, told the Associated Press that the most anyone would receive would range from $100 in Colorado to $8,000 in California. A spokesman for Kmart said, “We need our customers to know that we’re focused on providing a safe and enjoyable shopping environment.” This lawsuit was filed 7 years ago. “I’m thrilled, to say the least,” one of the original plaintiffs, Carrie Ann Lucas, 34, of Denver, told the AP. Lucas is in a wheelchair because of her muscular dystrophy. She charged that Kmart managers ignored her and failed to respond when she complained about cluttered or narrow aisles, inadequate parking or accessible checkout lanes that were closed. Another plaintiff complained that her wheelchair got stuck between clothing racks and boxes. When she got to the checkout line, she couldn’t fit through. “I got stuck, I was banging into things, it was embarrassing. All I could do is see the things I wanted because I couldn’t get to them. I just want to be able to go to Kmart and spend my money there like an able-bodied person,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
This Kmart settlement is reported to be the largest financial settlement under the ADA. It will affect hundreds of thousands of customers. Kmart also agreed to spend up to $70 million in the next eight years to bring stores around the country into compliance. The retailer also promised to help customers who use wheelchairs and electric scooters with additions such as communications devices that would allow them to call for help if they get stuck in aisles. Under such settlements, the company admits to “no wrong-doing.” Advocates for individuals with disabilities called the decision “a message to the retail industry that accessibility is a civil rights issue, and if you don’t comply, you will be vulnerable.” The American Association of People With Disabilities noted that people with disabilities spend $220 billion a year. Wouldn’it be nice if they started spending it at local stores instead of big boxes?