Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that a nationwide convenience store chain agreed to pay $8 million to resolve pregnancy and disability discrimination claims. The settlement follows an EEOC investigation that found multiple charges of pregnancy and disability discrimination, as well as charges of retaliation. Earlier, in September 2022 alone, the EEOC filed an alarming three separate lawsuits across the country involving workplace disability discrimination.

Background of the Pregnancy and Disability Discrimination Claims

According to the EEOC investigation, the convenience store chain denied reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and workers with disabilities, leading to charges of pregnancy and disability discrimination. Instead, the employer required that employees be “100% healed” in order to return to work. This practice constituted retaliation, as employees were put on involuntary unpaid leave or were outright terminated.

Disability and Pregnancy Status as Protected Classes

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Title VII’s definition of this protected class expands to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy-related conditions. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII and prohibits pregnancy discrimination in employment and harassment based on a pregnancy-related condition. Under the PDA, employees temporarily disabled related to pregnancy may take disability leave if the employer normally allows it in other situations. Finally, federal wage and hour law protects nursing mothers’ rights to break time for the purpose of expressing milk in the workplace.

Additionally, all businesses that are subject to a state, federal, or local law regarding disability discrimination must comply with their legal duty to reasonably accommodate qualified individuals with a disability. Coverage of the law breaks down thusly:

  • Employers with 15 or more employeesmust comply with the ADA, in addition to any applicable state or local laws.
  • Meanwhile, state or local law covers those with less than 15 employees. (Laws vary by state, city, or county.)

On the whole, employers must provide reasonable accommodations upon request. This applies whether the individual has or is “regarded as having” a qualifying condition. There are exceptions for instances where the requested modification poses an “undue hardship” for the business.

Settlement in the Agreement

The convenience store chain entered into a nationwide pre-litigation agreement with the EEOC through the agency’s conciliation process. As a part of the agreement, the chain will pay $8 million to resolve the pregnancy and disability discrimination charges. The amount includes a class fund to compensate aggrieved individuals who worked for the employer from July 10th, 2009, to September 26th, 2022. Additionally, the chain agreed to:

  • update its anti-discrimination policies;
  • appoint a coordinator to provide oversight on those policies, as well as recordkeeping and the reasonable accommodation process;
  • train employees and managers on discrimination; and
  • require manager performance evaluations that focus on equal employment opportunity (EEO) law compliance.

The pre-litigation settlement will be in effect for four years. In the end, these kinds of pregnancy and disability discrimination claims often lead to lawsuits, either by the alleged victim or by a government agency acting on their behalf. However, understanding and following the reasonable accommodation process can prevent potentially costly mistakes.

The Reasonable Accommodations Compliance eLearning Program for Employers and Managers

To help business owners and their managers comply with reasonable accommodation laws, Personnel Concepts has introduced a comprehensive, interactive Reasonable Accommodations Compliance eLearning Program. This online eLearning module includes self-guided training on the reasonable accommodation process. Employers and managers also learn how to correctly handle disability accommodation requests. Markedly, employers can use the completion of the self-guided training as a defense in the event of a disability discrimination claim or an investigation by an enforcing government agency. In addition, employers receive links to digital resources (including forms, checklists, and a sample policy). Finally, users gain access to a digital, standalone interactive assessment tool to use whenever they receive a qualifying request. The interactive assessment tool conveniently guides employers through the reasonable accommodation process.