Deaf Groomer Penalized for Inability to Speak While Her Customers Were Funneled to Non-Deaf Employees, EEOC Charged
DENVER – Pet store giant PETCO Animal Supplies Stores, Inc. will pay $145,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged the company with failing to accommodate a deaf pet groomer formerly employed at one of its stores in Aurora, Colo.
According to the EEOC, San Diego-based PETCO hired Nancy Buchner – who has over 30 years’ pet grooming experience – as a pet stylist in 2001. Profoundly deaf since birth, Buchner communicates most effectively in sign language. Upon hire, PETCO’s management assured Buchner that other employees would assist in scheduling her appointments via telephone as a reasonable accommodation.
However, the EEOC asserted that a PETCO manager eventually refused to schedule customers for her, despite requests for Buchner specifically. In fact, PETCO employees inaccurately informed customers that Buchner no longer worked for the company as a means to funnel them to non-disabled pet groomers, according to the EEOC. PETCO proceeded to unfairly penalize her during annual performance reviews for ineffective communication skills due to her inability to speak. Buchner eventually resigned in 2006.
The EEOC filed suit against PETCO in April 2009 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. PETCO Animal Supplies Stores, Inc., Case No. 09-CV-00747 WYD-CBS), asserting that PETCO failed to reasonably accommodate Buchner and subjected her to disparate treatment due to her disability, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The investigation and litigation of the case was a joint venture between the EEOC’s Denver Field Office, under the purview of the Phoenix District Office, and the Los Angeles District Office, which negotiated the final three-year consent decree settling the suit.
Aside from the monetary relief, the decree requires PETCO to implement an internal policy, procedures and staff training to safeguard against disability discrimination. PETCO must also submit annual reports to the EEOC to track future complaints of disability bias and requests for disability-related accommodations.
“We commend PETCO for implementing a companywide policy to prevent and address disability discrimination in the workplace,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “We encourage other employers to follow suit and be mindful of the ADA in light of its recent amendment.”
Olophius E. Perry, district director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, said, “With the 20th anniversary of the ADA on the horizon, it is important to remember that employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to ensure they have equal employment opportunities. Most often, as was the case here, the cost of accommodations is minimal.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.