EEOC v. The Food Farmacy and J&T Enterprises, d/b/a Foodworks: The ownership of a natural foods grocery store chain in Connecticut known as Foodworks has agreed to pay $25,000 to resolve a lawsuit alleging it discriminated against employees with disabilities.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Food Farmacy Ltd. and J&T Enterprises LLC do business as Foodworks and have stores in Guilford, Old Saybrook and Monroe. Federal officials claim the companies violated federal law by, among other things, asking job applicants questions about their medical history.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Foodworks asked disability-related questions of employment applicants before offering them jobs. The questions on applications included: “Do you have any health problems?”
In face-to-face interviews, managers asked applicants whether they had any health/physical problems, whether they were on any medications and, if so, which medications.
The EEOC also alleged that Foodworks fired an employee with epilepsy a few days after he had a seizure in the Monroe store, even though the employee had always performed his job as a frozen food/bulk manager successfully.
The employee presented medical documentation from his doctor that his medication had been adjusted and he was capable of returning to his normal work, but he was terminated nevertheless.
According to the lawsuit, Foodworks also failed to post the required notices describing provisions of federal law prohibiting disability discrimination in its Monroe store.
Disability discrimination, which includes asking job applicants disability-related questions, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC previously had attempted to resolve the allegations without filing a lawsuit, but says it was unsuccessful. The EEOC then filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. The complaint sought damages for the Monroe employee, as well as changes in the company’s application and interview practices and better training about discrimination for its managers and employees.
“One of the reasons why the ADA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to disability-related inquiries is to protect employees from actions based on harmful and unfounded stereotypes about medical conditions,” said Kevin Berry, the director of the EEOC’s New York district, which includes all of New England. “Such stereotyping not only occurs at the application stage but also occurs when an employee’s disability is revealed during employment.”
In settling the dispute, Foodworks agreed to pay the Monroe employee $25,000. In addition, Foodworks also signed an agreement prohibiting the company from asking disability-related questions of job applicants in the future and prohibiting it from firing an employee because of a disability or perceived disability.
The settlement also requires Foodworks to display posters concerning federal anti-discrimination laws in all of its stores; provide antidiscrimination training to all of its employees; adopt a new antidiscrimination policy that will be distributed to all employees; and provide periodic reports to the EEOC regarding any internal complaints of disability discrimination.
“We are confident that the individual relief for the former employee and the injunctive relief obtained will help ensure that employees and applicants will be fairly assessed on their ability to do a job, and not wrongfully excluded due to myths or misconceptions about medical conditions,” attorney Konrad Batog, who handled the case for the EEOC, said in a statement.
Foodworks, which also has a Smithfield, R.I., location, sells organic and natural food products. Its owner and president is Ralph Johnson.
The companies’ attorney, Mark Brouillard of St. Onge & Brouillard in Woodstock, could not be reached for comment.•