The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reached a settlement with Toys “R” Us in an employment discrimination lawsuit. Toys “R” Us is one of the world’s largest retailers of toys and children’s products in the world, and has multiple retail locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and all around the United States. The disability discrimination lawsuit filed at the Philadelphia EEOC district office against Toys “R” Us, Inc. has resulted in a $35,000 settlement and payment of significant equitable relief for employment discrimination. The settlement is one in a number of rising employment discrimination lawsuits settling in the EEOC district offices of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The employment discrimination lawsuit involved Shakira Thomas. Toys “R” Us invited Thomas to attend a group interview at their Columbia, Maryland store, after she had applied for a team member position with the retailer. When Thomas’ mother informed Toys “R” Us that Thomas was deaf and requested that it provide an interpreter for the interview, the retailer said that Thomas would have to provide her own.
Eager to find her daughter employment, Thomas’ mother decided to interpret for her during the group interview. However, despite Thomas’ qualifications and ability to perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation, Toys “R” Us refused to hire her, according to the lawsuit.
Under the federal law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employer cannot discriminate against employment applicants on the basis of a disability, such as deafness. In addition to prohibiting discrimination in employment, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to employment applicants during the employment hiring process in order to enable them to be considered for a job. By not providing reasonable accommodation for Thomas during the application process and then refusing to employ Thomas despite her qualifications and ability, the EEOC contend that Toys “R” Us discriminated against Thomas in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Administrative remedies were exhausted at the Philadelphia EEOC. The commission employs a conciliation process prior to litigation as required by certain federal employment statutes, including that ADA. It is an administrative process that evaluates claims of employment discrimination and harassment claims, which often results in mediation and settlement without the need for a lawsuit. In this case, the Philadelphia EEOC filed the employment discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division (EEOC v. Toys”R”Us-Delaware, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00756-CCB).
EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office praised the employment discrimination settlement. “This settlement should remind all employers that, absent undue hardship, the ADA requires providing a reasonable accommodation to job applicants and employees who request one,” he said. “Hiring decisions should be made based on an individual’s qualification and not because of a disability.”
This lawsuit settlement includes a three year consent decree, in addition to the $35,000 in monetary relief, which prohibits Toys “R” Us from future employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The prohibition requires Toys “R” Us guard against future employment discrimination by providing training on the Americans with Disability Act, including information on how managers and supervisors at its Columbia store can prevent employment discrimination during the employment application process. Additionally, the retailer will post a notice regarding the resolution of the employment discrimination lawsuit.
Philadelphia EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence, who represented Shakira Thomas in her employment discrimination claim, also applauded the decision. “We are pleased that Toys “R” Us worked with us to resolve this lawsuit,” she stated. “This settlement, including the extensive training provision, should protect applicants and employees from disability discrimination.”
Employment discrimination lawsuits have seen a steady rise in the past 10 years, particularly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The rise coincides with disparate employment statistics among disadvantaged groups. For instance, the rate of employment among disabled persons nationwide in August of 2013 was 20.5 percent, composing a large portion of the unemployed overall. In 20011, the employment rate for the disabled in Pennsylvania was only 33%. Such a figure is daunting, and particularly disparaging when considered besides instances of employment discrimination and harassment. Employment discrimination poses another unnecessary obstacle to the wellbeing of the disadvantaged among us.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
While the Toy “R” Us matter was filed under, employees in Pennsylvania and New Jersey also have state law rights protecting them against employment discrimination. In New Jersey, the Law Against Discrimination prohibits employers from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of disability and other protected characteristics. Pennsylvania has a similar state law, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).
Swartz Swidler, LLC, a law firm consisting of employment attorneys who practice in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and elsewhere, focuses on employment law, including employment discrimination and harassment claims throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, commends the efforts of the EEOC.