ADA Round-Up: Major Retailers Facing Disability Discrimination Cases

by: David Titmus

Welcome to this month’s edition of “ADA in the News,” featuring recent news, updates, events, and rulings regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jury Awards $5.2 Million in Walmart Disability Discrimination Case

A jury awarded $5.2 million in damages after finding that Walmart violated federal law when it refused to accommodate the disabilities of a longtime employee.

According to a suit filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the employee, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and with low vision, worked as a cart pusher in a Wisconsin Walmart for 16 years before a new manager started at the store. The new store manager suspended the employee and forced him to resubmit medical paperwork to keep his reasonable accommodations.

The employee had performed his job with assistance from a job coach provided by public funding.

The employee submitted the paperwork and requested the continued accommodation of assistance from a job coach, but the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him, the EEOC charged.

After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of the EEOC and awarded the employee $200,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $5 million in punitive damages.

“Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accommodations for disabilities,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “In this case, the jury sent a strong message to Walmart and other employers that if they fail to live up to their obligations under the law, they will be penalized.”

ASICS Facing Discrimination Suit

An EEOC suit claims that a major manufacturer of athletic footwear and accessories violated federal law by firing a temporary worker because of her disabilities.

The suit charges that ASICS America Corporation failed to work with the employee through an interactive accommodation process, the collaborative effort between an employer and employee to determine if the worker can fulfill the essential functions of their position.

The employee, who has hearing and speech difficulties, was assigned by a staffing agency to work at an ASICS warehouse distribution center. The lawsuit alleges that after the woman completed an orientation meeting and a video, members of ASICS’s human resources department told her that the company could not employ her because of her disabilities, and claimed it was unsafe for her to work in the facility.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, argues that the alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, back pay, and an injunction against future discrimination.

Dairy Queen Hit with Reasonable Accommodations Suit

A Savannah, Tennessee, Dairy Queen franchise is facing an EEOC lawsuit that claims it violated federal law by failing to provide an applicant with reasonable accommodations and denying him employment.

The suit filed against Fourteen Foods, LLC, a limited liability company operating the Dairy Queen Brazier franchise, claims that the applicant had worked for a predecessor company at the same location for approximately two years. After new ownership took over, he applied for employment.

Person holding an ice cream coneDuring the interview process, a company official told the applicant that he must wear a hat or a visor.  When the applicant said he could not do so because he wears a cochlear implant, the company asked that he produce medical statements from his doctor and the health department.

The suit says that although the applicant obtained the requested documents, the company would not accept the information. The company destroyed his application and refused to hire him.

The suit argues that the company’s alleged conduct violates ADA law, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against an applicant by denying reasonable accommodation and refusing to hire because of a disability. Further, the company could not produce the applicant’s application even though it admitted he applied for employment. Destroying or losing records violates the recordkeeping provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which are incorporated into the ADA.

The suit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and a decree prohibiting the company from discriminating against applicants because of their disability.

Fourteen Foods, LLC, is the owner and operator of more than 200 DQ Grill & Chill restaurants and Dairy Queen Braziers in 13 states, and has more than 9,000 employees nationwide.

EEOC Claims Worker Rejected for Being Deaf

A Washington state-based staffing and recruiting company has agreed to pay $170,000 and implement hiring policy and procedure changes to settle a federal disability lawsuit brought by the EEOC.

The EEOC’s investigation of Logic Staffing LLC found that when a qualified job applicant used Video Relay Service to return a call to the recruiter, he was told that his inability to hear would pose a safety risk. Video Relay Service enables people with hearing disabilities who use American Sign Language to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment, rather than through typed text.

Although the applicant explained that he had performed similar work without any safety issues, the suit claims that the recruiter stated that Logic Staffing did not hire people who are deaf and ended the call.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits rejecting a qualified applicant because of a disability.

Under the consent decree settling the suit, Logic Staffing will pay $170,000 to the applicant, hire an ADA consultant to assist in the development of policies, procedures, and training, and provide reports throughout the duration of the decree. The company also will post notices about the new policies and procedures on its website, job announcements, and company bulletin boards.

Job Interview Denied After Applicant Requested Sign Language Interpreter

A lawsuit charges that Conduent Business Services, a technology-based company in New Jersey, violated federal law when it refused to interview and hire an applicant because of his disability.

The suit, filed by the EEOC, claims the applicant, who is deaf, applied for a position at Conduent through a recruiting firm. The applicant was qualified for the position, and was one of several candidates Conduent was interested in interviewing. After the recruiting firm notified Conduent that the applicant would require an American Sign Language interpreter for his interview, the suit claims that Conduent decided not to interview or consider him further for the position, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting Conduent from discriminating against disabled individuals in hiring, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other affirmative relief for the applicant.

Trial Date set for Taco Bell Mobile App Suit

A trial date has been set for a suit against a popular fast-food chain that claims its mobile app is difficult to navigate for blind and low-vision users, a violation of the ADA’s Title III laws.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro slated trial proceedings in a woman’s suit against Taco Bell of America LLC to begin April 13, 2020. The judge also referred the parties to mediation, which is scheduled to take place next March.

Close-up photo of a flour tacoThe plaintiff, who is blind, filed a complaint against Taco Bell, arguing that the company’s app contains digital barriers which limit the ability of blind and low-vision consumers to access it, even with assistive technology. The suit contends the plaintiff’s screen-reader software also is incompatible with the app.

The suit seeks an injunction against Taco Bell of America to bring its mobile app within ADA compliance, as well as attorney fees and costs.

The plaintiff in this suit also is listed as a plaintiff in nearly four dozen cases in the Southern District of Florida, including similar ADA suits against other businesses and restaurants.

Family Dollar Ordered to Make Stores ADA Compliant

Family Dollar stores across Rhode Island have been mandated to become ADA compliant within six months and pay a fine.

The chain of discount stores agreed to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged that the company’s more than two dozen Rhode Island stores are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of the agreement, the company will pay a $7,500 civil penalty and correct all violations within six months.

The complaint was filed following an investigation by the Rhode Island United States Attorney General after the office heard from shoppers that the locations’ aisles, entrances, and parking spots were not accessible for people with disabilities.

Family Dollar agreed to change the placement of their carts, merchandise, and other items so they will not hinder those with mobility issues, both inside and outside of stores. In addition, an employee will be named an ADA coordinator, and all regional, district, and store managers will undergo ADA training.

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