- Circle K will pay $8 million as part of a nationwide agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after an investigation revealed the company denied reasonable accommodations to and retaliated against pregnant employees and those with disabilities, the EEOC said Tuesday.
- The EEOC said it had reasonable cause to believe Circle K subjected employees who requested accommodations to involuntary unpaid leave, required them to be 100% healed in order to return to work and terminated some of the workers. The agency’s press release included a statement from Mark Novak, Circle K’s VP of HR, who said that the agency’s investigation stemmed from charges filed between 2010 and 2015.
- In addition to the monetary compensation, Circle K agreed to a list of other remedies, such as updating its policies, conducting training and appointing an oversight coordinator. “Throughout the past decade, we have made a focused effort on centralizing and strengthening our ADA compliance efforts,” Novak said.
The $8 million payment represents one of the highest dollar amounts recouped by the EEOC this year behind the agency’s $18 million settlement with video game publisher Activision Blizzard in March. Circle K is a subsidiary of Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the second-largest operator of convenience stores in the U.S., according to Convenience Store News.
In the press release, the EEOC said Circle K voluntarily entered the pre-litigation agreement via the agency’s conciliation process. “We are pleased Circle K worked cooperatively with the EEOC to reach this conciliation agreement and, through our joint efforts, we have been able to bring about real change at Circle K without resorting to litigation,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in a statement.
The conciliation process has been the subject of some political back-and-forth in recent years. In 2021, the EEOC, under the Trump administration, published a final rule to update its conciliation process with the aim of disclosing additional information to employers involved in the process. However, the rule was rescinded months later as the result of a Congressional joint resolution signed by President Joe Biden.
The details of the EEOC’s investigative findings into Circle K bear some similarities with past lawsuits. In 2019, pilots for Frontier Airlines alleged that the company forced pregnant pilots to take unpaid leave, refused to provide accommodations and refused to accommodate on-duty breastfeeding-related needs.
The EEOC also has previously sued employers who have maintained 100% healed policies. In 2019, it sued an Alabama company, alleging that it illegally fired an employee who suffered an embolism. The employee had requested accommodations including weight-lifting restrictions and unpaid leave, but the employer allegedly told him that it would only allow him to return to work if he had a full medical release.
“When employers have rigid maximum leave policies with no flexibility to give additional leave for a disability or pregnancy-related reason, they are in serious danger of running afoul of the law,” Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, said in the release. “Employers who don’t give current employees a reassignment to an open position after the employer decides there is no reasonable accommodation available in the current position are also in danger of violating the law.”