Carol Emert, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published 4:00 am, Friday, June 19, 1998
In a move that could give tens of thousands of disabled people better access to gas pumps, Shell Oil Products Co. has agreed to bring all of its service stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A class-action settlement between the Houston-based company and three Northern California wheelchair users was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The agreement, which awaits court approval, is the product of two years of voluntary negotiations between the parties.
“I hope we’re starting a trend and oil companies other than Shell will follow suit,” said John Greener, a paraplegic and assistant principal at San Francisco’s Benjamin Franklin Middle School.
Greener, a plaintiff in the case, said he has nearly run out of gas in search of a station with accessible pumps. Service station sidewalks often are obstructed by news racks or soda machines, and bathroom doors sometimes are too narrow to enter, he said.
As part of the settlement, Shell has agreed to survey its 3,840 stations in nearly 1,800 U.S. cities and document all access problems. There are about 1,000 gas stations in California and scores in the Bay Area alone.
The company will modify the 6-inch-high sidewalks surrounding the service stations so that customers in wheelchairs can enter the buildings, which often house bathrooms, convenience stores and payment counters.
Most of the stations also will install fuel stations with pump handles and credit card scanners that are low enough to be used by people in wheelchairs.
Shell has agreed to a long list of additional measures including posting a toll-free telephone number for customer complaints, maintaining 36-inch aisles and charging disabled people self-service prices instead of full-service prices when they need assistance pumping gas.
Lainey Feingold, the lead plaintiffs’ counsel, warned other retailers to follow Shell’s lead. “We think this should be the model for all companies,” she said. “Those that don’t follow this (route) should be prepared to face litigation.”
Shell is not necessarily a worse offender than other service station operators, Greener said.
About two years ago, Greener complained to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley about a bad experience that happened to take place at a Shell station. DREDF, a co-counsel to the plaintiffs, then wrote to Shell asking to discuss ADA compliance.
Because Shell was cooperative throughout the talks, it never became necessary to pursue legal action against the company, Feingold said.
A complaint against Shell and an affiliate that operates some stations, Equilon Enterprises LLC, was filed for procedural reasons yesterday along with the settlement document. U.S. District Judge Charles Legge has been assigned to the case.
Shell did not return telephone calls.
In addition to Greener, the plaintiffs include Robert Coleman, a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Robert Ludlow, a Santa Cruz attorney. The San Francisco law firm Rosen, Bien & Asaro is a co-counsel. Feingold is a former DREDF attorney who now is in private practice in Berkeley.