Hair Salon Refused to Accommodate Stylist's Claustrophobia, Agency Charges
MIDLAND, Texas - Minnesota-based Regis Corporation, doing business as SmartStyle, violated federal disability discrimination law for denying a hair stylist an accommodation for her claustrophobia and then firing her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to EEOC's suit, Nora Jacquez was hired as a hair stylist in January 2014. Due to her anxiety disorder of claustrophobia, Jacquez could not work at a station if it was in a confined space located between others. Although she was initially assigned to a more open station at the salon, the company later denied Jacquez that arrangement. Despite the stylist's repeated requests to continue the minimal accommodation, Regis refused to move her to a different station, EEOC said. This approach by management resulted in a physical reaction that sent Jacquez to the hospital for treatment of her claustrophobia. Thereafter, when she needed two months off work to undergo treatment, the company failed or refused to assist Jacquez with the necessary paperwork for medical leave, and then fired her, EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination, including failing to provide workplace accommodations for employees who have disabilities. EEOC filed suit, Civil Action No. 7:15-cv-00160, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Midland/Odessa Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In this case, EEOC seeks compensatory and punitive damages and back pay, as well as injunctive relief, including an order barring similar violations of the ADA in the future.
"When an employer decides to refuse to accommodate a condition like claustrophobia that could be managed with a simple solution such as allowing the person to work in a slightly different work space, then it is violating federal law," said Devika Seth, senior trial attorney in the EEOC's Dallas District Office.
EEOC Regional Attorney Robert A. Canino added, "If the employer cannot show that reassignment or the slight shuffling of salon chair stations would pose an undue hardship to its business operations, then it needs to comply with the law, and if it refuses, EEOC will step in."
SmartStyle is owned by Regis Corporation (NYS:RGS), which operates salons worldwide under the trade names SmartStyle, Supercuts, Regis Salons, Mastercuts, and Sassoon Salon. According to the company websites www.regiscorp.com and www.smartstyle.com, Regis owns, franchises, or has ownership interest in over 10,000 locations worldwide and the SmartStyle salon chain has over 2,500 locations in 49 states.
EEOC's Dallas District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in northern Texas and parts of New Mexico.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.