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Disablity rights group sues Walgreens stores

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday June 04, 2002

East Bay resident Anne Finger has had a hard time buying personal hygiene products at her local drugstore lately, and blames plastic blue storage bins that are stacked in the aisles, keeping her from reaching the retail shelves. 

While some might be inclined to move the bulky bins, Finger, 50, has a physical disability which requires her to use a wheelchair and limits her ability. 

The Berkeley-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. has joined Finger in filing a lawsuit against drugstore giant Walgreen Co., alleging that the retailer routinely blocks access to aisles and goods and thus fails to comply with California law requiring full and equal access to customers. 

One of the two East Bay stores cited in the suit is the Berkeley Walgreens at 2995 San Pablo Ave. The other store is at 5055 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland. 

Finger said that her inability to access goods at the two stores is not intermittent, but chronic and that she’s raised the issue with store managers four or five times now. 

“They say the right things, but the next time you come in, it’s the same way,” she said. “They seem to have a policy of using the aisles for storage.” 

A lack of response from management prompted Finger to file the May 22 suit which could force Walgreens to make policy changes as well as award Finger a monetary sum. The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court. 

Ilinois-based Walgreens declined to comment on pending lawsuits and did not return phone calls requesting information about their access protocols. The retailer has one month to issue a legal response to the May filing. 

The nonprofit DREDF, which has also filed recent disability suits against corporations Chevron and Amtrak, says a lawsuit is its last-resort in seeking compliance from the company that has not addressed its complaints.  

“Our main goal in this suit is a policy change in the inventory management practices of Walgreens,” said DREDF attorney Linda Kilb. 

Kilb was optimistic that Walgreens would assent to the needs of the disabled. 

“We’re not talking about them having to rebuild things... Their architectural design is fine. We’re talking about them taking a different approach [to stocking merchandise],” she said, noting that the latter was a much less costly prospect. 

Despite access issues, Finger continues to shop at the two Walgreens stores near her home, about twice a month she says. 

“Being discriminated against doesn’t make me want to go away. It makes me want to try harder,” she said.