LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) -- A federal judge ruled last week that a class action lawsuit against coffee giant Starbucks Corp., alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, may proceed.
Judge Dean Pregerson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said in an order Friday that the lawsuit against Starbucks, which also alleges violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, also can include all California stores containing pickup counters in excess of the height permitted under the ADA.
The underlying class action was filed in May 2012, seeking to force Starbucks to lower the height of its pickup counters.
The complaint alleges that Starbucks has known about the problems with its counters since at least 2005, yet the company has continued to discriminate "against tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of disabled patrons in wheelchairs."
In particular, the plaintiffs allege the higher counters discriminate against disabled customers and pose safety risks, since they are used to pass hot beverages, and sought to include all California stores in its lawsuit.
Starbucks countered that the plaintiffs only had standing to proceed against stores they had visited.
Pregerson rejected the company's position, siding with the plaintiffs.
"It is an unfortunate reality that it often takes a class action lawsuit to force large-scale violators to address systematic abuses," said Vineet Dubey, counsel representing the class members.
"We hope that Friday's ruling will expedite proceedings and ultimately force Starbucks to immediately lower the beverage pick-up counters at all of its coffee shops."
However, Starbucks President Cliff Burrows said in a video that the company already has taken steps to improve accessibility.
Specifically, he said the company has introduced a "lower-height hand-off plane" across the globe.
Dubey, in a statement Tuesday, said he was "surprised" to learn that Starbucks has introduced the lower hand-off counters.
The plaintiffs also claim that in order to build its stores more quickly and inexpensively, Starbucks created prefabricated modular pieces designed to adapt to any store size.
The company then used the pieces, including the high pickup counters, in stores throughout the country, they allege.
Starbucks has denied that the issue with the height of its pickup counters resulted from a common design.
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