Kenneth Lowe Oct. 28, 2014, 10:09am

A nationwide department store that hands out in-store cash to seemingly everyone nevertheless doesn’t treat all persons equally when it comes to physical accommodations, according to a recently-filed class action lawsuit.

Washington D.C.-based not-for-profit Equal Rights Center sued Kohl’s earlier this month in Chicago’s federal court over alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming the store’s layout doesn’t conform with standards laid out in the law.

Also named as plaintiffs in the Oct. 21 filing are Devora Fisher, Edith Prentiss, Monica Kamal, Jean Ryan and Regina Lee. They are represented by Tracy E. Stevenson, Jennifer M. Sender and Andrés J. Gallegos of Robbins, Salomon & Patt Ltd. in Chicago.

Seeking to represent a class of all customers with disabilities who shop at Kohl’s, the plaintiffs argue Kohl’s customers with disabilities are “denied the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations ... on the basis of disability because of the presence of narrow aisles, inaccessible sales or service counters, inaccessible merchandise displays, inaccessible parking spaces, inaccessible restroom facilities, or inaccessible fitting rooms."

“In light of pervasive violations of the ADA and applicable state disability laws, [Kohl’s] unique store format creates a pattern and practice of systematically denying equal access to individuals with disabilities, including Plaintiffs and other members of the [Equal Rights Center],” the suit asserts.

While the plaintiffs note Kohl’s stores have main aisles of adequate width for persons who have disabilities, it argues that the side aisles are too narrow and the merchandise displays “contain inaccessible fixtures for individuals with physical disabilities.”

The suit also complains of the stores’ restroom and dressing room accessibility, as well as the height of counters.

The ERC made those determinations after it responded to member complaints regarding stores located in California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wyoming, according to the suit that notes the ERC conducted surveys of 41 Kohl’s stores in 13 states.

“Indeed, barriers to accessibility existed in all stores surveyed by the ERC in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. These four states alone are home to nearly one-fifth of Kohl’s department stores,” the suit alleges.

The ERC sent two letters to company officers in 2012 and 2013 calling out Kohl's alleged violations and received no response, according to the suit.

In addition, Fisher, one of the named plaintiffs, sent a letter to the company complaining of barriers she claims to have faced at stores in Arlington Heights, Glenview, Niles and Vernon Hills.

The suit notes Fisher, an artist who was born with scoliosis and other congenital birth defects, uses a wheelchair for mobility. Fisher’s guardian, according to the complaint, brought the problems at the stores to the attention of managers multiple times, but that they remain unresolved.

The plaintiffs seek to designate a class consisting of all people with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs or are otherwise disabled due to mobility-related issues and who “were denied the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any Kohl’s Department Store in the United States on the basis of disability because of the presence of a narrow aisle, inaccessible sales or service counter, inaccessible merchandise display, inaccessible parking spaces, inaccessible fitting rooms, or inaccessible restrooms, among other barriers.”

They are seeking injunctive relief and are suing Kohls for discrimination on the basis of disability under the ADA and New York State law.

Electronic court records show a status hearing has been set for Dec. 22.

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