DENVER (AP) — The clothing chain Hollister will get rid of steps at its trademark entrances at dozens of stores across the U.S. to make the doorways wheelchair accessible as part of a settlement approved Thursday by a federal judge.
The agreement marks the end of a six-year court battle involving the retailer that specializes in Southern California-inspired casual wear targeted at teens.
The entrances are designed to look like beach houses.
The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition filed a lawsuit in 2009 arguing that Hollister violated federal law by limiting wheelchair users to side entrances. Two years later, a federal judge ruled that the raised porches violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling last year, finding that the store did not break the law, in part because it offered alternative entrances for wheelchair users, but it did not dismiss the case.
Advocates for the disabled, however, say those other entrances were often locked, blocked or hard to find because they resembled windows.
To avoid a trial, both sides negotiated the settlement that was given preliminary approval in April.
Hollister, owned by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., had already started converting many of its storefronts before the settlement was finalized, saying it also has spent $11 million on additional accessibility measures. The company has gotten rid of stairs at some stores, keeping the porch look, and is also converting other stores to a more sleek, minimal look with flat entrances that it says isn’t connected with the settlement.
U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel said he was pleased when he saw a Hollister entrance without stairs at a Denver-area mall earlier this year.
He noted Pope Francis’ message to Congress earlier in the day about the Golden Rule and said the settlement was following that principle.
“This case is one that I believe lifted up something important,” Daniel said.
There were about 250 Hollister stores with porch entrances when the lawsuit was filed, and only 218 remain.
By the end of January, 92 will be converted or closed and 126 will still have steps, Hollister attorney Mark A. Knueve said in court, telling the judge the process would continue after that deadline.