Agency Says Retailer Denied Accommodations to and Harassed a Disabled Cancer Survivor
CHICAGO - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. violated federal law by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee at its Hodgkins, Ill., store who was disabled by bone cancer and failing to stop harassment of the employee, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed yesterday.
According to Julianne Bowman, the EEOC's district director in Chicago, who managed EEOC's pre-suit administrative investigation, the Walmart store initially agreed to comply with employee Nancy Stack's request that the company provide a chair in her work area in the fitting room and limit her scheduled work hours because treatment for bone cancer in her leg limited her ability to walk and stand. After complying with her scheduling accommodation for many months, the store revoked it for no reason. And the store did not ensure that a chair was in Stack's work area, at one point telling her that she had to haul a chair from the furniture department every day, which was of course hard for her to do given her disability. Finally, the store transferred Stack from the fitting room to a greeter position, which did not comply with her restrictions on standing.
To add insult to injury, Bowman added, a co-worker harassed Stack by calling her names like "cripple" and "chemo brain," imitated her limp, and removed or hid the chair the employee needed in her work area. Stack complained repeatedly, but the store took no action to stop the co-worker's harassment.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which can include denying reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and subjecting disabled employees to a hostile work environment.
The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Civil Action No. 15-5796, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman. The government's litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorney Ann Henry and supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason.
"It's hard to believe a retailer the size of Wal-Mart could not manage to consistently provide such a simple accommodation as a chair," said John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for EEOC's Chicago District Office. "Telling a disabled employee that she needs to drag a chair across the store every day is no accommodation at all. Employers have to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would be an undue hardship. EEOC is aware of no hardship that required Wal-Mart to suddenly change Stack's schedule, deny her the use of a chair, and transfer her out of the fitting room where she had performed her job well for years."
EEOC Trial Attorney Ann Henry commented, "No employee should have to go to work and face mocking and name calling because she had cancer. Employers who know about such vile harassment in their workplace have an obligation to stop it. Wal-Mart did not do that here, and the EEOC will seek to hold the company liable for that violation.
In July 2014, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart alleging that it violated the ADA by firing an intellectually disabled employee at a Rockford Walmart store after it rescinded his workplace accommodation.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.