EEOC: Party City manager rejected applicant with autism, saying she wouldn't hire people 'like that'
- Party City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to consider a job applicant with a disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit (EEOC v. Party City Corp., No. 1:18-cv-838 (D.N.H, Sept. 19, 2018)). A hiring manager at a Nashua, New Hampshire, location declined to continue a job interview after she became aware that the applicant required a job coach as an accommodation for her autism, the commission said in a press release.
- The EEOC said that the job applicant, then a senior in high school, was receiving services from Easter Seals to improve her self-confidence. A job coach accompanied the applicant when she applied for a sales associate job with Party City. When the hiring manager learned at the interview that the woman accompanying the applicant was a job coach and not her mother, the manager allegedly said that the company had hired people "like that" before and it had not gone well. The hiring manager repeatedly 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, EEOC said. The manager continued, saying that the Party City employee who had encouraged the applicant to apply would hire anyone, and would "even hire an ant."
- In the days immediately after not hiring the applicant, Party City hired six sales associates, EEOC said.
Employers may need to train managers on their ADA responsibilities to employees and to job applicants. While employers need not hire workers who cannot perform the essential functions of a job even with an accommodation, EEOC in its press release warned businesses about the danger of relying on stereotypes and assumptions.
Instead, employers are encouraged to focus on the work, but are free to ask applicants whether they can perform a job's essential functions — with or without an accommodation. And if an employee requires assistance because of a disability, an employer must work to find a reasonable accommodation that allows him or her to perform the job's duties. One such accommodation can be permission to use a job coach, EEOC noted in the Party City press release. "Here, the job coach, who would only have helped cue the applicant with her job tasks as she learned her job and for whom Party City would not have had to pay, was a completely reasonable accommodation that would have caused it no hardship at all," EEOC's New York district director, Kevin Berry, argued.
Similarly, employers may need to provide accommodations that allow applicants with disabilities to participate in the hiring process. This can include creating an accessible online application, or exempting an applicant from a video interview requirement, for example.