4 MAY 2005
Landmark Settlement Requires Accessible Evacuation
Procedures at All Marshalls Stores Nationwide
Attorneys from Hogan & Hartson L.L.P. and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs announced today the settlement of a high-profile, ground-breaking lawsuit against Marshalls that will require the major discount retailer to provide accessible evacuation routes for shoppers with disabilities in all of its stores nationwide. This landmark settlement ensures that Marshalls will adopt emergency evacuation procedures that take into consideration the needs of shoppers with disabilities in each of its more than 700 stores in 42 states and Puerto Rico. As a result, Marshalls becomes the first national retailer in the country to agree to address the critical emergency evacuation needs of persons with disabilities.
The settlement agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by Katie Savage, a Washington, D.C. resident who has a mobility impairment and who uses a wheelchair, and the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington (DRC). On September 3, 2002, Ms. Savage became trapped during an emergency evacuation of a Marshalls store and the mall in which it was located. After Marshalls required her to exit into an area of the mall that is below ground level, Ms. Savage was trapped and unable to evacuate because the elevators were shut down and all the exits had stairs. Ms. Savage, who did not receive any assistance or guidance from the store or mall personnel, resolved to use this incident as a vehicle to make certain that fellow citizens with disabilities would not be similarly victimized in emergency evacuation situations. Ms. Savage joined the DRC in filing a lawsuit against Marshalls that alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Maryland law in Marshalls' corporate-wide evacuation policies.
The settlement was preceded by a significant decision issued in this case on December 28, 2004 by Judge John W. Debelius III of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. In this decision, Judge Debelius found that the ADA requires places of public accommodation to consider the needs of people with disabilities in developing emergency evacuation plans. As a result, shopping malls, stores, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and other entities subject to the ADA throughout the country, whether landlords or tenants, should now seek to accommodate people with disabilities in the development and modification of emergency evacuation procedures.
"The settlement with Marshalls is a significant step in ensuring the safety of consumers with disabilities, and should serve as a model for other retailers," said Elaine Gardner, Director of the Disability Rights Project at the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. "The ADA always has been understood to help get people with disabilities into places of public accommodation. Now, for the first time, it also works to ensure that public places try to get those same people out in the event of a fire, terrorist attack, or other emergency."
"I am extremely proud of the Marshalls settlement and hope that it will serve as an example to other retailers when they are designing their emergency evacuation procedures," said Ms. Savage. "This is an agreement which recognizes that people with disabilities are not second-class citizens, and that our safety is just as important as others in the event of an emergency."
One of Ms. Savage's attorneys, Steve Hollman, agreed. "This is a landmark agreement that will establish access to emergency services for thousands of people with disabilities across the country," said Mr. Hollman, a partner with Hogan & Hartson L.L.P. in Washington, D.C. "And because governments can seek guidance from the way the law is interpreted for public accommodations under the ADA, this case should have significance not just to commercial landowners, but also to state, local, and federal agencies who are designing their evacuation plans."
The parties agreed to a confidential financial settlement. Among other things, Marshalls also agreed to:
- Certify that each of its stores located within the United States and Puerto Rico provides an accessible emergency exit or area of rescue assistance for people with disabilities;
- Develop written, corporate-wide policies and procedures for the evacuation of people with disabilities;
- Train all current and future employees on its new evacuation policies;
- Retain an ADA Consultant who will be assisted by Elizabeth A. Davis of EAD & Associates, LLC, a nationally recognized expert in emergency management for people with disabilities, to help plan and implement the terms of the settlement;
- Designate an employee within Marshalls to oversee and coordinate implementation of the terms of the settlement; and
- Verify compliance with the terms of the settlement by submitting compliance reports as the new evacuation policies are implemented.
Ms. Savage is represented by the law firm of Hogan & Hartson L.L.P. and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs.