Circle K Agrees to Pay $8 Million After EEOC Investigation into Disability, Pregnancy, and Retaliation Charges

Circle K Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $8 million and comply with the terms of a four-year settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) amid charges that it failed to offer reasonable accommodations to and retaliated against disabled and pregnant workers. An EEOC investigation found that the company had placed affected employees on involuntary unpaid leave, retaliated against them, required that they be 100% healed before returning to work, and terminated them in some instances. The EEOC determined that Circle K’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Circle K entered the agreement through the EEOC’s conciliation process, which helped the company avoid a potential lawsuit. In addition to paying $8 million, Circle K has agreed to:

  • Review and update its disability, pregnancy, and other employment policies as needed;
  • Hire a coordinator to oversee the review and update of pregnancy-related disability policies, requests for reasonable accommodations, and maintenance of related records;
  • Conduct employee surveys and exit interviews focusing on the company’s accommodation process;
  • Require anti-discrimination training for all employees, including managers;
  • Amend managers’ performance evaluations to mandate consideration of compliance with equal employment opportunity laws.

The Circle K settlement underscores the need for employers to understand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and related laws. Employers who take a hardline, rather than a practical approach to these laws, may fail to comply with them.

More specifically, Circle K’s inexplicable requirement that pregnant workers be 100% healed before returning to work is an example of a hardline – and ultimately unworkable – policy. As Dannie Lynn Fountain, an HR staffer at Google, noted, “according to some medical professionals, it can take up to two years for abdominal muscles to heal, and up to a year or more for the overall emotional and physical health of a pregnant person to truly stabilize.” Such a policy would require workers to potentially refrain from returning to the workplace for two years after giving birth in some cases, which does not benefit the workers in any way. The better solution is likely for companies to provide alternatives to these workers, where possible, such as in the form of remote work, flexible or reduced hours, and adjusted work responsibilities in the case of positions requiring physical exertion.

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

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Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.

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