Judgment Against AutoZone Affirmed in EEOC Disability Discrimination Case

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Contact

Appeals Court Upholds Injunction and $415,000 Award to Disabled Former Employee

CHICAGO - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has affirmed a $424,000 judgment (including $9,000 in costs) against AutoZone, Inc. for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today. The decision also upholds an injunction requiring the national auto parts retailer to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with physical disabilities in all of its stores in central Illinois.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., Civil Action No. 07-cv-1154) in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in 2007, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. At trial, the EEOC presented evidence that the company's managers insisted that Parts Sales Manager John P. Shepherd III mop floors at the end of the day, an activity that aggravated Shepherd's back impairment and caused intense pain. As the Court of Appeals recounted, "Shepherd's store manager called him a good salesman who could 'sell ice cubes to an Eskimo,' and noted that customers would specifically ask for Shepherd's assistance. As a result, Shepherd averaged the highest sales per customer among the employees at his store in 2003." The EEOC presented evidence that despite repeated requests from Shepherd and his doctor, company officials refused to eliminate the mopping assignments, eventually causing serious injury.

The ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to the known physical limitations of employees with disabilities. Such accommodations may include the elimination or modification of a non-essential job duty, or the transfer of a non-essential job duty to another employee.

On June 3, 2011, a federal jury in Peoria, Ill., awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering. The jury also awarded $500,000 in punitive damages for what the trial judge described as "total and knowing disregard for the underlying purpose of the ADA." The judge later reduced the punitive damages award to $200,000 to comply with a statutory limit on damages, but added $115,000 in lost wages. AutoZone was assessed $9,000 in litigation costs.

On Feb. 15, 2013, the Court of Appeals rejected AutoZone's appeal, holding that there was no basis for granting judgment to the company as a matter of law or for ordering a new trial. The court upheld the award of compensatory damages, citing evidence that Shepherd "experienced near-daily pain" as a result of AutoZone's violation. Noting that "AutoZone's dismissiveness of Shepherd's health concerns occurred on multiple occasions and was not an isolated incident," the court also concluded "that AutoZone's conduct was sufficiently reprehensible to justify imposing punitive damages." An injunction requiring AutoZone to provide reasonable accommodations for employees in all of its central Illinois stores was remanded to the district court in order to specify an expiration date, but was otherwise also affirmed.

This is the second appellate victory for the EEOC in this case. An earlier appeal (EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., 630 F.3d 635 (7th Cir. 2010)) reversed a summary judgment decision and led to the June 2011 trial. An earlier trial, in September 2009, resolved other claims in AutoZone's favor.

"The employee in this case was a good worker and an excellent salesman, and denying him the simple accommodation he needed to do his job was illegal and cruel," said John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago. "Our hope is that going forward AutoZone will meet its obligations to all of its employees under federal law -- hardworking Americans deserve no less."

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said, "After two trials and two appeals, the very successful resolution of this case is a testament to the hard work and persistence of our attorneys in both the Appellate Services unit and the Chicago District Office."

On appeal, the government was represented by Attorney Eric A. Harrington and Assistant General Counsel Carolyn L. Wheeler, both of the EEOC's Appellate Services unit. The EEOC's district court litigation was supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour. At trial, the EEOC was represented by Trial Attorneys Justin Mulaire and Aaron DeCamp.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

 

Written by:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Contact
more
less

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.