Party City Corporation, a Rockaway, N.J.-based national discount and costume retailer, will pay $155,000 and provide other nationwide and regional relief to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in September 2018, charged that Party City violated federal law by failing to hire a qualified employee with a disability at its Nashua, N.H., location after it became aware that she required a job coach as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the applicant, who was on the autism spectrum and suffered from severe anxiety, had been receiving services from Easter Seals of New Hampshire to build up her self-confidence, including around working and applying for a job. One of these Easter Seals employees went with her in October 2017 to apply for a sales associate job with Party City. The applicant received a job interview, but when the hiring manager discovered that the woman accompanying her was a job coach, the hiring manager’s attitude changed dramatically.
The hiring manager told the job coach that Party City had hired people with disabilities with job coaches in the past and that it had not gone well, and made disparaging comments about those employees. Although both the applicant and the job coach explained to the hiring manager that the applicant had been successful shadowing others in previous retail jobs, the hiring manager was uninterested in either the applicant’s abilities or in the limited role the job coach would play, the EEOC said. The hiring manager tried to cut the interview short by telling the job coach in a patronizing tone, “Thank you for bringing her here,” while the applicant was still in the room. The hiring manager also stated, in the applicant’s presence, that the Party City employee who had encouraged the applicant to apply would hire anyone, and would “even hire an ant.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and imposes a requirement that employees with disabilities be provided a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship on the employer. One of these accommodations can be the use of a job coach.
The EEOC filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire in Concord, N.H. (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00838-PB), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the monetary relief, the three-year consent decree settling the suit enjoins Party City from discriminating against qualified applicants with job coaches in the future. The decree also requires Party City to revise and improve its reasonable accommodation policy; train human resource employees on the new policy and distribute it to all employees; report to the EEOC on all denials of employment to applicants with job coaches; and provide a notice regarding the decree to employees within the New England region, where the store at issue is located.
“Federal law requires employers to consider disabled job applicants based on their abilities, not on demeaning stereotypes,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “The EEOC will continue to prosecute violations of the law where we find them.”
Kevin Berry, director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said, “Allowing this applicant to work with a job coach in her early weeks of employment would not have caused an undue burden on Party City. The ADA requires employers to make this type of reasonable accommodation so as to enable qualified people with disabilities to join the workforce, which is a win-win for everyone.”
Markus L. Penzel, senior trial attorney for the EEOC, added, “We commend Party City for agreeing to mediate this case so soon after the filing of the complaint and to take the steps necessary to prevent what occurred here from happening to any other applicant with a job coach.”
The EEOC’s New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
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