Circle K Settles Pregnancy, Disability Bias Claims for $8 Million

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

December 7, 2022

Convenience store chain Circle K will pay $8 million to resolve allegations that it denied reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and employees with disabilities as the result of a nationwide settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According the EEOC, multiple employees filed complaints alleging that Circle K had denied reasonable accommodations and retaliated against those who requested accommodations, resulting in employees being subjected to involuntary unpaid leave or terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

The $8 million settlement is in effect for four years and includes a class fund to compensate affected individuals who were employed at Circle K between July 10, 2009, and September 26, 2022. In addition, Circle K agreed to:

  • Update its policies;
  • Appoint a coordinator to provide oversight on pregnancy-related disability policies, accommodation requests and maintenance of records;
  • Conduct climate surveys and exit interviews with specific attention to the accommodation process;
  • Conduct anti-discrimination training for all employees, including managers; and
  • Require performance evaluation of managers to include consideration of compliance with EEO laws.

The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified employees with disabilities with reasonable accommodations to enable them to perform their jobs. Accommodations may include additional leave, modified work schedules or duties, modified policies, equipment, and reassignment to another role, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business. A disability under the ADA is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual's major life activities. The definition is broad and encompasses many conditions and illnesses.

While pregnancy itself is not a disability, medical conditions related to pregnancy can come under the ADA's umbrella. In addition, the PDA requires employers to offer accommodations to pregnant employees to the same extent that they would accommodate an employee similar in their ability or inability to work who needed a comparable accommodation for a different reason, such as a work-related injury. Some state and local laws impose additional requirements for pregnancy-related accommodations.

"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 emphasized. "Employers who don't give current employees a reassignment to an open position after the employer decides there is no reasonable accommodation in the current position are also in danger of violating the law."