ELKINS, W.Va. – The national retailer Big Lots will pay a $100,000 settlement following a lawsuit that claimed an employee with hearing and speech disabilities at the Big Lots in Elkins was subjected to harassment by her co-workers, according to a release from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that a number of store employees often mocked the worker’s hearing disability and manner of speech, frequently using derogatory and highly offensive terms, and Big Lots management were aware of the harassment yet failed to take action. The lawsuit also claimed that Big Lots refused to promote the employee because of her disabilities and in retaliation for her reporting the harassment.
Additionally, the EEOC’s lawsuit claimed that Big Lots subjected a non- disabled department manager to discrimination due to her association with the harassment victim and her efforts to protect her co-worker from harassment.
The release stated that the alleged conduct of Big Lots violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on an employee’s disability or association with a disabled person and retaliation for opposing such discrimination.
The EEOC filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (Elkins). The release also stated that the U.S. District Court previously denied Big Lots’ motion for summary judgement seeking dismissal of the case, and the EEOC and Big Lots reached an agreement to voluntarily settle the case by a consent decree before the scheduled trial.
In addition to paying a total of $100,000 to the two workers, Big Lots is also required to implement various measures to prevent workplace disability discrimination, including ADA investigation documentation requirements, furnishing reports to the EEOC concerning certain allegations of disability harassment or discrimination and retaliation, a training requirement and posting a notice to employees of the Elkins store relating to the harassment, according to the release.
“Under federal law, workers have a right to earn a living free from harassment because of their disabilities,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence. “But of comparable importance is the legal right of all workers, whether they’re disabled or not disabled, to oppose and report workplace conduct that they believe to be disability harassment or other forms of discrimination. Workers who exercise that right and seek to protect their co-workers or themselves should be applauded, not punished, and the EEOC will act to ensure those workers’ rights are respected.”
EEOC District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, “Disability harassment and other forms of harassment continue to be a pervasive problem in the American workplace. It is important for employers to recognize the scale of that problem, to acknowledge their own responsibility, and to work proactively to develop and implement solutions within their own organizations.”
The release stated that the lawsuit was commenced by the EEOC’s Pittsburgh Area Office, one of four component offices of the agency’s Philadelphia District Office. The Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Ohio, according to the release.