Settlement Agreement between the United States of America and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
On January 16, 2009, the Civil Rights Division entered into a settlement agreement with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve access for persons with disabilities at Wal-Mart stores nationwide. The agreement resolves an investigation that was initiated after the Department 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 violation of Title III of the ADA. Many of the complaints alleged that persons with disabilities were denied access to Wal-Mart stores or were denied an equal opportunity to shop, free of repeated challenges by Wal-Mart staff, because they were accompanied by service animals. Service animals are dogs and other animals that are individually trained to work or perform tasks for persons with disabilities.
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 settlement 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. The Civil Rights Division will determine which complainants are to receive damages from the fund and the amount of damages to be received.
In furtherance of the public interest, 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. The nature and scope of the public service announcement campaign will be determined by the Civil Rights Division.
The settlement agreement is posted on the Department of Justice’s ADA Home Page at http://www.ada.gov.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is committed to making reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures to permit the use of service animals by its customers with disabilities. Service animals play an important role in ensuring the independence of people with disabilities, and it is therefore our policy to welcome into our stores any animal that is individually trained to assist a person with a disability.
What is a Service Animal?
Service animals are individually trained to work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. Service animals are not always dogs; other animals may assist people with disabilities. Service animals come in all breeds and sizes, may be trained either by an organization or by an individual with a disability, and need not be certified or licensed. Service animals do not always have a harness, a sign, or a symbol indicating that they are service animals. A service animal is not a pet. Service animals assist people with disabilities in many different ways, such as:
- Guiding people who are blind or have low vision and retrieving dropped objects for them;
- Alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds and the presence of others;
- Carrying and picking up items, opening doors, or flipping switches for people with disabilities who have limited use of hands or arms, limited use of their legs, or limited ability to bend or stoop;
- Pulling wheelchairs;
- Alerting people with disabilities to the onset of medical conditions such as seizures, protecting them and cushioning them if they fall and reviving them.
- Doing work or performing tasks for persons with traumatic brain injury, intellectual disabilities, or psychiatric disabilities, such as reminding a person with depression to take medication or waking him up, helping people with traumatic brain injury to locate misplaced items, or follow daily routines.
- Providing physical support and assisting people with physical disabilities with stability and balance.
People Greeter Responsibilities:
Wal-Mart welcomes customers with service animals. People Greeters are the Wal-Mart associates responsible for determining if an animal is a service animal. Most of the time, people with disabilities who use service animals may be easily identified without any need for questioning. If you can tell by looking, you should not make the customer feel unwelcome by asking questions. If you are unsure whether an animal meets the definition of a service animal, one People Greeter and, where necessary, a member of Store Management may ask the customer only one question:
- Is this a service animal required because of a disability?
If the customer says yes or otherwise explains that the animal is required because of a disability, you should welcome the person and service animal into the store. Do not ask any further questions about the customer or his or her service animal. You may not ask a customer questions about his or her disability. You may not ask a customer to show a license, certification, or a special ID card as proof of their animal’s training. You must permit service animals to accompany customers with disabilities to all areas of our stores normally used by other customers.
All Associates’ Responsibilities Regarding Service Animals:
Once a customer with a service animal has passed the People Greeters and entered the store, no associates may ask the customer any further questions about his or her service animal. You must permit service animals to accompany customers with disabilities to all areas of the store normally used by customers. This includes areas of the store that contain food. Treat customers with service animals with the same courtesy and respect that Wal-Mart affords to all of our customers. Service animals are not pets. Do not interfere with the important work performed by a service animal by talking to, petting, or otherwise initiating contact with a service animal. If you have a concern about an animal in a store, contact a manager or assistant manager. Only a manager (or, in the absence of a manager, an assistant manager) can make the decision to exclude a service animal, except in the unusual circumstance where a service animal’s behavior requires immediate action to prevent imminent injury to others and there is not enough time to contact a manager.
In the event that a particular service animal’s vicious behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, the service animal is acting out of control and the owner does not take action to correct its behavior, or in the unlikely event that Wal-Mart can demonstrate that a particular service animal’s conduct fundamentally alters the nature of the store’s business, Wal-Mart has the right to exclude the animal from a store at that time. Barking alone is not a direct threat. In addition, a direct threat does not exist if the service animal’s owner takes prompt, effective action to control the animal. Moreover, Wal-Mart will not exclude a particular service animal based on past experience with other animals or based on fear that is not related to a service animal’s actual behavior. Each situation will be considered individually. In the event Wal-Mart excludes a service animal, it may not refuse service to the individual with a disability when he or she is not accompanied by that particular service animal.
In a store where a People Greeter is not present, a manager or assistant manager may ask the People Greeter question identified above.
Customers can make complaints about the improper treatment of customers with service animals by calling 1-800-963-8442. People with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by service animals in Wal-Mart stores under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Wal-Mart considers interference with or denial of this right to be a serious violation of Company policy. Wal-Mart will promptly investigate all complaints raising this issue and will take appropriate disciplinary action when associates fail to comply with this Policy.
- Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax