Retailer Permitted Disability Harassment at West Virginia Store, Then Retaliated Against Employee For Reporting Harassment of a Co-Worker, Federal Agency Charged
Elkins, WV - National retailer Big Lots Stores, Inc., will pay $100,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that a retail worker with hearing and speech disabilities was subjected to harassment by her co-workers at Big Lots' Elkins, WV, store. A number of store employees often mocked the worker's hearing disability and manner of speech, frequently using derogatory and highly offensive terms, and Big Lots management officials were aware of the harassment but failed to take appropriate action, the EEOC alleged. Additionally, the EEOC charged that Big Lots refused to promote the employee because of her disabilities and in retaliation for reporting the harassment. Further, the EEOC's lawsuit charged that Big Lots subjected a non-disabled department manager to discrimination because of her association with the harassment victim and in retaliation for her efforts to protect her co-worker from harassment.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability or association with a disabled person and retaliation for opposing such discrimination. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Big Lots Stores, Inc. Case No. 2:17-CV-00073) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (Elkins). The U.S. District Court previously denied Big Lots' motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the case, and the EEOC and Big Lots reached an agreement to voluntarily settle the case by consent decree before a scheduled trial.
In addition to paying a total of $100,000 to the two workers, the agreed consent decree approved by the U.S. District Court enjoins future violations of the ADA and requires that Big Lots implement various measures to prevent workplace disability discrimination, including ADA investigation documentation requirements, furnishing reports to the EEOC concerning certain allegations of disability harassment or discrimination and retaliation, a training requirement, and posting a notice to employees of the Elkins store relating to the settlement.
"Under federal law, workers have a right to earn a living free from harassment because of their disabilities," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said. "But of comparable importance is the legal right of all workers, whether they're disabled or not disabled, to oppose and report workplace conduct that they believe to be disability harassment or other forms of discrimination. Workers who exercise that right and seek to protect their co-workers or themselves should be applauded, not punished, and the EEOC will act to ensure those workers' rights are respected."
EEOC District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, "Disability harassment and other forms of harassment continue to be a pervasive problem in the American workplace. It is important for employers to recognize the scale of that problem, to acknowledge their own responsibility, and to work proactively to develop and implement solutions within their own organizations."
Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The lawsuit was commenced by the EEOC's Pittsburgh Area Office, one of four component offices of the agency's Philadelphia District Office. The Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.