Clothing label ordered to modify store entrances

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Abercrombie & Fitch brand Hollister Co.’s stores are meant to resemble the Southern California beach culture, complete with surfing attire and the step-up porches common in the region’s beach towns.

The porches, however, prevent people who use wheelchairs from entering the stores, leaving these individuals with only a side door entrance to access the store’s services.

Red universal access symbol

Hollister stores to improve accessibility

Under an order issued August 20 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Hollister must fix these entrances to make them fully accessible.  The “elevated entrances'”are present at 248 of the more than 500 stores owned by the brand nationwide.

The order follows a March decision where the court found that Hollister’s stores violated the architectural standards for places of public accommodation required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hollister had argued that the side entrances made the store ADA compliant.

The court, however, favored the interpretation of the ADA set forth by the Department of Justice, which intervened in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, determining that Hollister must either modify the entrances to make them ground level, replace the steps with a ramp, or eliminate the front entrances altogether.

“This interpretation is not only consistent with the agency’s interpretation of its own regulations, it is consistent with the fundamental purpose and explicit language of the ADA requiring integration and prohibiting separate-but-equal facilities,” the court stated in its March opinion.

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition sued Hollister in November 2009, in regards to two Colorado stores featuring the step-up entrances.

The Equal Rights Center found similar problems in 9 states and filed a similar lawsuit in November 2009 in Maryland.

In 2012, the Colorado case became a class action lawsuit, targeting all of Hollister’s U.S. stores.

Under the order, Hollister has until January 1, 2017 to modify all its stores.

Starting January 2014, Hollister must submit reports to the court every six months, to ensure compliance with the remediation plan. If Hollister has not fixed all of its stores by 2017, the company may be able to extend the deadline upon a showing of good cause, though only for a maximum of six months.