National grocery store chain Safeway, Inc. will pay $75,000 and make significant changes to its policies and hiring practices to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Joel Sibert applied online in July 2017 for several jobs at Safeway Store #1551 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and was selected for an interview based on his qualifications and experience working similar jobs. However, once Sibert explained that he is deaf and would need an interpreter for the interview, the in-store hiring recruiter told him she did not know anything about providing an interpreter and then never got back to him about the interview. Instead, Safeway hired several hearing individuals to fill the vacant positions, the EEOC said.
Rejecting a qualified applicant because of disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (EEOC v. Safeway, Inc., Case No. 2:18-cv-01352-RSL) after an investigation by EEOC Investigator Isabel Jeremiah and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides Sibert with $75,000 in damages for emotional distress and back pay, and calls for important changes to Safeway’s hiring policies and practices. Safeway has agreed to revise its career website and application to make it easier for applicants to request accommodations; include contact information in its ADA policy; conduct ADA and accommodation training; distribute its modified ADA/accommodation policy to all employees annually; and ensure that recruiters understand Safeway’s obligations under the ADA.
“I was excited when I was selected for an interview at Safeway,” said Silbert. “But when I requested an interpreter during my interview and placed multiple calls to the store over the following week, I was placed on hold or told no one was available. I felt so disregarded. I’m glad Safeway is taking steps to make their workplace more inclusive. This will make a difference for so many deaf applicants.”
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, “Discrimination against individuals with disabilities continues to be a serious and pervasive problem. Safeway’s agreement to changes in policies and training as well as other proactive steps shows its commitment to making the workplace accessible to all.”
Sienko noted that eliminating barriers in hiring, especially hiring practices that discriminate against people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s 2017-21 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), and added, “This is our district’s second settlement resolving recent lawsuits on behalf of qualified applicants who were not given a chance to interview as soon as it became apparent that they were deaf. These are candidates with valuable skills and experience, and the EEOC will champion their right to be considered on the basis of their merits instead of stereotypes about their disabilities.” EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Teri Healy added, “Too often we see people with disabilities who are excluded from job opportunities. The ADA is designed to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to compete on an equal basis. The outcome here shows the importance of the EEOC’s mission to enforce the ADA.”
According to its website, http://www.safeway.com, Safeway became a subsidiary of Albertsons, Inc. in 2015. Prior to the merger with Albertsons, Safeway operated 1,335 stores in the United States and employed 138,000 individuals.