PetSmart Accused of Discrimination Against the Blind in New Civil Suit
Plaintiffs Allege ‘Separate but Unequal’ Treatment of Blind Customers
Denver, Colorado (April 22, 2015): PetSmart, Inc., which bills itself as the nation’s largest seller of pet food, pet supplies, and pet services in the United States, is accused of violating the rights of blind customers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), according to a class action lawsuit (Case No. 1:15-cv-00839) filed yesterday in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), and six blind individuals who reside in Colorado, Texas, and Massachusetts. The suit alleges violations of Title III of the ADA as well as state laws, because PetSmart requires the entry of debit card PINs on touch-screen keypads, which the blind cannot operate, rather than simple, inexpensive tactile keypads.
Despite a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) statement filed in a Florida court more than a year ago that set forth the DOJ’s position that merchants are required under the ADA to provide blind customers a physical keypad to input their debit card PINs, PetSmart has failed to do so. As a result, blind customers are forced to sacrifice the security of their debit card PIN by sharing it with PetSmart employees or using another less desirable form of payment.
“PetSmart is discriminating against the blind by not providing us the same treatment as their sighted customers,” says Yolanda Thompson, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit. “PetSmart seems to have a ‘separate but unequal’ attitude when it comes to the disabled.”
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Blind people are just as concerned about the security of our financial accounts and information as our sighted peers, so having to verbally provide our debit card PIN to PetSmart’s sales personnel is not acceptable. Nor is it an answer to say that we can pay with cash or a credit card instead; blind people must have all of the same options for payment as the sighted as a matter of equal treatment, and the benefits of using debit cards, such as the ability to receive cash back, apply equally to the blind. We will not accept PetSmart’s cavalier attitude toward the basic security and equal treatment that we are entitled to expect from those with whom we do business.”
“It’s difficult to give quality care to my guide dog from a place that doesn’t offer me equality,” said Dishon Spears, a Colorado resident and NFB member. “Blind customers cannot shop at PetSmart in the same way that sighted customers can. This is discrimination, whether or not PetSmart intends it that way.”
Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Jana Eisinger and Douglas Lambalot of the Martinez Law Group, P.C., a law firm that specializes in complex litigation and class actions, with offices in Denver and New York City; Scott LaBarre of LaBarre Law Offices, P.C. in Denver; and Kevin Williams, head of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition Legal Program in Denver.