Folks may recall that I filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act against Best Buy after they called the police on me.
I finally got my official reply from the Department of Justice.
Last August I had gone into a Best Buy looking for some cables. “Security” caught up with me pretty quickly, and told me I had to leave. I invoked the ADA, and the guy’s response was “I’ll have the police escort you out.”
Now, I took that as an invitation to stay until the police arrived. When the police did arrive, there was a bit of a discussion about whether anybody with the authority to do so had actually asked me to leave, but eventually it was clear, so I left.
After that I wrote a complaint email to Best Buy, and they were the usual jerks: if I had let them know in advance they would have gotten a wheelchair for me.
No, a “reasonable accommodation” for me is just to let me walk through the store barefoot, not for them to be able to inflict a totally unnecessary monstrosity on me.
In follow-up emails to them, I did educate them a bit on the ADA, but they were adamant (and utterly paranoid). As far as they were concerned, bare feet were probably as dangerous as walking around doused in gasoline.
Anyways, you can go read the longer versions of what happened in my previous blog posts, Best Buy, Worst Way and Best Buy, Wussed Way. In the end I decided to file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which is where one files for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unsurprisingly, the DOJ declined to do anything. I got back a form letter, which also wasn’t too surprising. Here’s the first paragraph:
This is in response to the complaint that you filed with this office alleging a possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After carefully reviewing the information that you provided, we have decided not to take any further action on your complaint. Unfortunately, because the Section receives thousands of ADA complaints each year, we do not have the resources to resolve all of them.
That really explains the long time-frame and the form letter. It’s clear that they have quite limited resources and they have to pick and choose carefully the cases they take. I also have to admit that, while I do think the situations for many barefooters, including myself, are such that they do fall under the ADA, there are plenty of other people out there with more extensive disabilities or difficulties that ought to get more attention.
The next paragraph of the letter hints at that while saying a bit more about their decision.
It is important to note that the Justice Department has made no determination regarding the merits of your complaint or whether it could be redressed under the ADA or another statute. Moreover, our decision not to take further action does not affect your right to pursue your complaint in another manner. You may wish to contact an attorney or legal service provider to determine what remedies may be available.
As I said, this was just a form letter. What that means is that, behind the scenes, we have no idea whether the agent who analyzed it spent their time laughing at the idea, or gave it serious consideration. They might even have been turned off at the prospect of the (probably negative) publicity that would ensue if they pursued a barefoot case. What I do know is that, and I put this in my complaint, wearing shoes makes my back and knees hurt; they are pretty-much just fine when barefoot. As far as I am concerned, I shouldn’t have to put up with arrogant businesses who ignorantly claim some sort of safety concern. And from my reading of the ADA, that matters.
So, do I pursue this further, or even sue?
The DOJ letter also included a list of various state and local agencies that might be able to help. That leads to a different issue: how ought disabilities ought to be rated, and does that even matter? According to the ADA, it shouldn’t matter—accommodations should be open to all, regardless of their degree of disability. It’s pretty clear to me that what shoes to do feet, and how that works its way up the whole body, qualifies as a disability. But does pursuing something based on that denigrate those with much more visible, and much more incapacitating, disabilities? I don’t know.
Quite frankly, I could probably handle pursuing a lawsuit on my own.
But would it be worth it?
The problem is, how do you prove pain?
If one has a clear and obvious physical deformity (due to accident or otherwise), then an official disability is pretty easy to determine. But what do you do to show that shoes exacerbate pain, and that going barefoot relieves it?
Yes, I have a note from my doctor, but if you think about it, all that really can do is note the shattered cartilage in one of my knees, and relate my very own description of how going barefoot alleviates the pain. In addition, to tell you the truth, I like my doctor and really wouldn’t want to put her through the hassle of having to testify in any sort of lawsuit. And as I noted, all she could really testify to is my medical history and that I said going barefoot relieved my pain. I doubt that would be enough.
Sure, we might also be able to get some more enlightened podiatrists to talk about shoe damage. But the defense would be able to pull out their own slate of old-school podiatrists (I’ve written about them here on the blog) who still think that feet are naturally deformed and always need support. I don’t see any strong prospects for a win.
In the end, when any of us try to rely upon the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are basically going to have to be relying on the kindness of strangers. We have to hope they listen to us and will keep an open mind about their preconceptions. They are wrong when they think bare feet are somehow dangerous; they are wrong if they think there are some sorts of sanitary concerns.
But if they dig in their heels, my assessment is that there really isn’t much more we can do.
We can try to persuade. If that fails, we can threaten. But in the end, I don’t think the options available to us are all that useful. It would be different if the disability were more obvious, or if such prejudice against barefootedness did not exist.
For now, at least, though, that is where things stand, in my opinion. I still think it is valuable to file complaints with the DOJ; maybe eventually they’ll see enough of them to start to understand that this is a really issue and take one of the cases. In the meanwhile, we do what we can, but we cannot expect much help.