Abercrombie & Fitch will remove inaccessible entrances at nearly 100 of its trademark Hollister stores, under a settlement with disability advocates finalized in federal court September 24 [PDF].
Designed to resemble Southern California beach houses, 218 of the Hollister stores contain step-up porches inaccessible to wheelchair users. Abercrombie & Fitch argues the stores are ADA compliant because they contain side entrances, though disability advocates argue the side entrances resemble windows and often contain other accessibility barriers.
The settlement, approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, requires the stores to close or modify 92 of the 218 stores.
The agreement comes as a result of nearly six years of litigation, which began with a class-action lawsuit filed in 2009 by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. In August 2013, the District Court ruled that the store entrances violated the ADA and ordered Abercrombie & Fitch to remove the step-up porches at all of its stores by the beginning of 2017.
However, in August 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision [PDF]. Specifically, it found that the porches did not violate the ADA Accessible Design Standards for entrances because of the existence of the side entrances. The 10th Circuit also denied the porch area was a “space” subject to the Standards’ requirements.
Since the Court did not find a violation of the Standards, it foreclosed any finding that Abercrombie & Fitch’s stores violated the ADA’s statutory mandate, despite the plaintiffs’ argument that the stores violated the ADA both in regard to their “design” and “use.”
Nonetheless, CCD is treating the settlement as at least a partial victory.
“Although Plaintiffs won numerous victories at the District Court level, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Plaintiffs’ ADA claim, ” the CCD wrote on its website. “Given that, the Defendants could have refused to make any of the stores equally accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs.
“Nevertheless, the parties were able to reach an amicable agreement that ensures many stores will provide equal entrances. Defendants will either close or remodel other stores to provide equal access as was said in court today.”