Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has agreed to settlement a lawsuit claiming that it discriminated against its people with disabilities under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and promised to improve access for persons with disabilities at its stores nationwide. The agreement resolves an investigation that was initiated after the U.S. Department of Justice received several complaints alleging that Wal-Mart had refused to make reasonable modifications to its rules, policies, practices, and procedures for customers with disabilities.
In particular, several complainants alleged that Wal-Mart denied equal access to its stores for people with disabilities who use service animals; at least five complainants alleged a failure to provide disability-related assistance, two complainants alleged that Wal-Mart denied equal access by failing to make reasonable modifications in order to accept payment by people with disabilities at different stores; and one complainant alleged that a Wal-Mart auto service department denied him equal access to its services because he was deaf and did not have a cellular telephone.
The settlement agreement covers all facilities located in the United States where Wal-Mart sells any good or service to members of the public, including all Wal-Mart stores, Supercenters, Sam’s Clubs, and Neighborhood Markets. The agreement, which will be effective for three years, requires Wal-Mart to take several steps to improve access for customers with disabilities, including:
- an undertaking by Wal-Mart not to discriminate in violation of Title III of the ADA and to provide reasonable modifications to individuals with disabilities as required by Title III of the ADA, such as disability-related assistance such as helping customers in locating, lifting, and carrying items;
- the adoption and implementation of an ADA-compliant policy of welcoming persons with disabilities who use service animals into Wal-Mart stores with little or no questioning and without repeated challenges by Wal-Mart employees;
- training for all employees on Wal-Mart’s obligations under Title III of the ADA to make reasonable modifications for individuals with disabilities and Wal-Mart’s new ADA-compliant service animal policy;
- additional training for store management and People Greeters, since employees in these positions have additional responsibilities under Wal-Mart’s new service animal policy;
- the posting of Wal-Mart’s new service animal policy on its website and in employee areas at its stores;
- the establishment of a grievance procedure in which Wal-Mart will receive complaints alleging violations of Title III of the ADA at a toll-free hotline, investigate such complaints, and take appropriate corrective actions to resolve any noncompliance with Title III of the ADA, including relief to complainants where appropriate.
Under the settlement agreement, Wal-Mart will also pay $150,000 into a fund to compensate certain individuals with disabilities who filed administrative complaints with the Department alleging Wal-Mart’s refusal to make reaonable modifications, including the denial of equal access to persons with disabilities who use service animals. Wal-Mart will also pay an additional $100,000 into a fund that will be used by the Civil Rights Division to finance a public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of the access rights of persons with disabilities who use service animals.