Advocates for the blind target J. Crew

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point of sale machine with a credit card

J. Crew and Build-A-Bear Workshop Face Accessibility Lawsuits

One of the nation’s largest clothing retailers is discriminating against people with visual disabilities by failing to provide accessible point-of-sale devices, according to a new class-action lawsuit [PDF] filed August 11.

As is the case at many retail store check-out-lines, customers with visual disabilities at J. Crew stores are unable to independently complete debit or credit card transactions. Instead, they are confronted by touchscreen devices prompting them to enter their PIN numbers entirely by visual cues, forcing them to seek assistance and compromise their privacy, the lawsuit asserts.

Other retailers have installed physical touchpads and other devices in their POS devices. In fact, the state of California has required all merchants operating in the state to provide these accommodations since the beginning of 2010.

That is not the case, however, at J. Crew’s 514 stores, including its more than 50 stores in California.

The National Federation of the Blind and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, who are being represented by the Martinez Law Group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven named individuals and a nationwide class of people with visual disabilities who have shopped at J. Crew’s stores.

The same day, they brought a similar lawsuit against Build-A-Bear Workshop, a retailer of children’s stuffed animals.

“Unfortunately, merchants like J. Crew and Build-A-Bear have not taken their obligations under the (Americans with Disabilities Act) seriously, and they have failed to make accessibility a priority for their organizations,” Kevin Williams, legal program director for the CCDC, in a news release. “These merchants have the attitude that they can address accessibility issues on their own delayed timeframe, and by eventually getting around to doing so, they will avoid any liability. That is simply not the case.

“We hope these lawsuits will send the message to merchants that when they flagrantly disregard the law, as J. Crew and Build-A-Bear have done, they do so at their own peril.”

The Department of Justice similarly has staked out the position that the ADA requires retailers to purchase accessible POS devices. As asserted in a Statement of Interest in a similar lawsuit filed in Florida in 2014, the “option to securely and independently conduct debit transactions falls squarely within the ADA’s ambit.”

In addition to the ADA lawsuit, the complaint asserts violations of applicable New York State and City, California, Colorado and Texas law.

The J. Crew lawsuit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York  and the Build-A-Bear lawsuit is in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.