Carrie Ann Lucas wasn’t looking to sue Kmart. She simply wanted to shop there but couldn’t do so without running into accessibility hassles such as blocked aisles, tightly spaced clothing racks, seldom opened accessible checkout aisles, inaccessible restrooms, fitting rooms and parking lots.
Lucas, a chair user due to congenital myopathy, spent years going to the store managers to point out the accessibility problems and how they violated the law. When she’d return to the same store a few weeks later, she’d find the same problems still there. She filed numerous letters with the Department of Justice, but Kmart repeatedly claimed all the problems had been fixed. She even requested mediation, but Kmart said no.
Most of us would have bailed at this point, perhaps not so silently kvetching that we’d take our business elsewhere. We’d feel like victims, businesses would continue to break the law and nothing would change. But Carrie Lucas isn’t most people, and rather than give up, she sought help and began a crusade. In the end, she prevailed and won a victory for all of us.
The settlement agreement, which United States District Judge John Kane termed the “gold standard” for disability access class actions, ensures sweeping accessibility improvements at more than 1,400 Kmart stores nationwide, along with damages totaling $13 million dollars, four times as much as the next largest disability access class action suit.
More important, the settlement provides a template for taking on an entire store chain, and a model of what compliance can and should look like — for the courts as well as other chains. If Kmart, one of the least prosperous outfits in the country — and just emerging from bankruptcy – can find a way, surely more upscale and affluent retail chains can also be compelled to do so.
What began with one person’s struggle to improve wheelchair access in an inner-city discount department store turned into a seven-and-a-half year saga resulting in the largest and most far-reaching accessibility settlement ever. If you’ve seen some changes at your local Target, Sears or other chain outlet, just remember, one person — Carrie Lucas got the ball rolling.
A ‘David vs. Goliath’ Story
This is a true David vs. Goliath story, the stuff of such films as A Civil Action, Erin Brockovitch and Philadelphia. It’s a typical script: The giant normally works to fend off what it considers frivolous or nuisa