Grocery Store Fired Clerk Based on Disability, Federal Agency Said
BALTIMORE - Safeway, Inc. will pay $27,000 in monetary damages and furnish significant equitable relief, including returning an employee to work, to resolve a federal disability discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
According to the suit, Patricia Bonds worked as a food clerk at Safeway's Westminster, Md., store when she sustained a work-related injury that substantially limited her in her lifting ability. Although Safeway initially accommodated Bonds' disability by reassigning her to work at the customer service desk, the store abruptly placed her on indefinite unpaid leave, claiming that she had exhausted her time limits for modified duty. EEOC charged that Safeway refused to observe its legal duty to provide a reasonable accommodation and then unlawfully fired Bonds because of her disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination. The ADA also requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, including reassignment to a vacant position, unless it would cause a significant expense or difficulty to the employer. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Safeway Inc., Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-02955) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $27,000 in monetary relief, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit requires Safeway to rehire Bonds with her continued seniority status and to provide her with a hand scanner or other reasonable accommodation to allow her to perform the food clerk job duties. Safeway is enjoined from violating the ADA, including refusing to provide reasonable accommodations. Safeway will provide annual ADA training to all managers and supervisors at its Westminster store and to all members of its eastern division accommodations committee. The grocery store will also report to EEOC on how it handles any complaints of disability discrimination and post a notice regarding the settlement.
EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. pointed out that according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, a high percentage (59%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500. Available resources to learn about reasonable accommodations include http://askjan.org and www.eeoc.gov.
"This settlement should encourage employers to use available resources to achieve a reasonable accommodation - which is usually minimal or even effortless - to comply with federal law and keep qualified workers with disabilities employed," said Lewis.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "We are pleased that Safeway worked with us to craft a resolution that is good for Ms. Bonds, who will be reinstated and compensated for her losses, and for Safeway, which now gets a qualified worker back on the job. The equitable relief in the settlement will also protect other workers with disabilities from unlawful discrimination."
One of the six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the Commission to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment opportunity law, including certain ADA issues such as reasonable accommodation.
EEOC Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in EEOC's Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.