Let me continue with yesterday’s Best Buy. Worst Way.
We pick up the story after I sent an email to Best Buy’s corporate offices about violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
First, let me mention that, despite being told by an employee that I would have to find their barefoot policy on the Best Buy website, there are no policies at all on the website. They do have a policy page, but their “Ethics Code” misdirects to their “Paper Procurement Statement”.
And under a “Corporate Responsibility” heading, “Our Customers” leads merely to something that says, in part
We want to provide customers with a variety of product options and the best information available so they can make sustainable choices.
A lot of companies make some sort of statement about valuing customers and caring about diversity or something. Not Best Buy (or at least, I couldn’t find it).
Let me also mention that I got some comments after yesterday’s post from people who go into their local Best Buy barefoot all the time. In fact, they were rather concerned when they heard I was contacting the corporate offices, because they were afraid that an edict would go out officially banning bare feet and they’d suddenly become unable to shop in their local store.
Two things: why would you want to even consider continuing to support such a company that did that? There are plenty of other options. And secondly, I think we’ve noticed that these places that end up tossing a barefooter seem to do it rather randomly. It all depends more on individual employees, and the employees almost never know (or care) what the corporate policy is.
Even if Best Buy put out an official notice banning bare feet, within a few weeks things would return back to where they were before.
On the other hand, if an edict comes out allowing bare feet, then we have a letter we can carry in-hand that should (mostly) work even when we encounter a hostile employee.
Another thing that we’ve heard in these situations is that these companies will say that they let the individual store managers decide whether to ban bare feet or not. I’ve never understood this. One reason for going to a huge chain like Best Buy is because we expect them to be uniform. (That’s certainly true of fast food.) Yet, if we cannot even be sure whether we will be welcomed at a store, why should we even try to use them?
Anyways, so I wrote an email to Best Buy’s “President, U.S. Retail and Chief Human Resources Officer” detailing exactly what had happened, and how I thought they were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are various tricks (and websites) one can use to find out email addresses, and they worked for me.
I then got an email back from a “Sr. Executive Resolution Specialist.” Here’s what it said:
Thank you for contacting Best Buy’s corporate office. I am sorry to read about the experience you described. I am going to look into this and get back to you soon with more information. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me, as well.
Pretty much standard corporate-speak.
It took a week for him to get back to me (that’s not “soon” to me), but this was the official response.
While Best Buy empathizes with your situation, it is my understanding that you were asked by an employee to please wear shoes while in the store as our employee was concerned for your safety. It is my understanding that you did not ask for any type of accommodation prior to visiting our store. According to our employee, the doctor’s note did not state that you could not wear shoes; it stated you have knee and joint pain. We will need to have you wear shoes while visiting our store, but we are happy to provide a wheelchair or have an associate personally assist you.
I understand that you plan to seek input from additional sources. Please know that Best Buy will respond in kind to inquiries from outside entities.
So, they decided to double-down. But they also didn’t bother to check very much into the Americans with Disabilities Act, or they would not have written some of what they did. Much of what they wrote was simply in error.
Our employee was concerned for your safety. Here’s what the ADA says about safety:
A public accommodation may impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation. However, the public accommodation must ensure that its safety requirements are based on real risks, not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.
As we all well know, the supposed hazards of going barefoot are a myth based almost exclusively on speculation. They are not real risks and they are not legitimate. So many of us have gone barefooted in so many public accommodations we know how bogus that is.
The ADA requires
A public accommodation is required to make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical evidence or on the best available objective evidence, to determine: The nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk.
You can be darn sure that Best Buy did not do that before replying in the manner they did.
Additionally, the explanation of the regulations also says
However, any eligibility or safety standard established by a public accommodation must be based on actual risk, not on speculation or stereotypes; it must be applied to all clients or customers of the place of public accommodation; and inquiries must be limited to matters necessary to the application of the standard.
Notice that bit about “it must be applied to all clients or customers of the place of public accommodation”? Just the fact that other Best Buy stores allow barefooted customers blows their excuse right out of the water.
It is my understanding that you did not ask for any type of accommodation prior to visiting our store. There is no requirement in the ADA that you notify a store in advance. And for me to go barefoot, what advance notice would they need? Maybe to specially scan their floor to see if they are doing the sort of maintenance they should be doing anyways (and which every other store I’ve been in has managed to do without advance notice)?
The doctor’s note did not state that you could not wear shoes. Actually, the note does state that. It talks about my pain and proprioception. Mr. Sneering Supervisor didn’t even bother to correctly read the note.
But besides that, I was not even required to provide such a letter in the first place. As the ADA says
The ADA prohibits unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability.
We are happy to provide a wheelchair. That’s just an insult. (I’ve heard that other barefooters with medical issues have also had companies make such an “offer”.) I am perfectly capable of walking around on my own, as long as I am barefoot. To make me use a wheelchair just draws attention to my situation for no good reason. As far as I can tell, this wheelchair offer is intended to make us feel bad and feel stupid for even having addressed the issue.
All they have to do is let me walk on a floor that is perfectly safe to walk on, but without projected their myths and prejudices on me.
Please know that Best Buy will respond in kind to inquiries from outside entities. Obviously, this refers to my threat to contact the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (the ones who enforce the ADA).
Good luck with answering any questions from the DOJ the way they answered me. It shows a prima facie violation of the ADA, not doing any of the things required.
At that point I decided to write back, just to point out the errors. Maybe that would influence them. I again sent an email to the President, because who knows if the response I got was really endorsed by upper management. My new email was basically what I wrote above (but much shorter!).
Here was the next response, again from the “Blow-off Specialist”, er, I mean, “Resolution Specialist”.
Thank you for your additional correspondence to Shari Ballard. We apologize for the incomplete summary of your doctor’s note that we received from the store. We are glad to hear that the employee did not ask for the note. Please rest assured it was not necessary to share the note with us.
Nevertheless, we respectfully deny that we violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are sorry that you found our offer of a reasonable accommodation to be insulting, as that was most certainly not our intent. Regrettably, we will not be able to honor your request to enter our stores without footwear.
First, note how he’s trying to extract his foot from his mouth on the doctor’s note, backing away from a possible violation of the ADA. (However, he also got it wrong again: the guard did not ask for my note; Mr. Sneering Supervisor did, and then totally misread it.)
But they’ve triple-downed. What a bunch of wusses. This time, no excuse or reason. They are just denying my request, and saying they have not violated the ADA.
In other words, “Bring it on.”
So on Tuesday I filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Best Buy may be right. It may be that nothing will happen because of my complaint. The complaint page says it’ll take at least 8 weeks before I’ll hear anything back. The DOJ may buy into the whole barefoot myth just as so many others do. It may be that they decide my condition does not properly qualify as a “disability”. The “Resolution Specialist” actually may have consulted with Best Buy attorneys, and that is what they advised him to do.
And there are other barriers to having a successful resolution. It’s up to the DOJ as to how far they want to pursue it (and I gather they’re rather busy) even if they do think Best Buy violated the ADA. They can try to educate Best Buy. If Best Buy remains intransigent, they can sue Best Buy (but I wouldn’t bet on it). If the DOJ doesn’t sue, I could sue. (But how does one prove pain? I’m the only one feeling it, and I’m the only one who recognizes the conditions that lead to it.)
So now I wait.
In the meantime, for those who really don’t think much of the way Best Buy is handling this, let me recommend a place I get most of my electronics from, Tiger Direct. After all, the only reason I’d gone into the Best Buy this time was because I wanted something I didn’t want to wait for. But Tiger Direct generally has good shipping times, good prices, and I’ve always been satisfied.
Next week I will doing another posting on the ADA with more detail on its provisions, and how I think it might be of benefit to (at least some) barefooters.