Federal agency sues Oklahoma 7-Eleven stores over policies on disabled workers
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims the company that operates 7-Eleven stores in central Oklahoma has violated federal law by failing to provide accommodations for disabled workers.
The EEOC filed a civil suit on Friday against 7-Eleven on behalf of Casey Crothers, a former stocker at the company's Oklahoma City warehouse and distribution center.
The lawsuit claims the company denied Crothers and other disabled workers light duty or adequate leave unless they were injured on the job and also fired workers for missing more than three days of work.
In a statement Jim Brown, president and CEO of 7-Eleven, said Crothers left the company on good terms.
"Like so many people at 7-Eleven, Mr. Crothers worked hard and was well-liked. The circumstances of his departure three years ago were amicable, and we believed then, as we do now, that we treated him fairly and in accordance with the law," Brown said.
Crothers, who suffers from psoriatic arthritis, was fired from 7-Eleven in January 2013, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims 7-Eleven terminated Crothers because of a flare-up of his condition that temporarily limited his ability to move boxes at the warehouse.
Crothers presented his supervisor with a note from his doctor requesting temporary light duty, but was told “it wasn't ‘7-Eleven's problem,' that he was having a medical problem and 7-Eleven did not have to work with him,” according to the lawsuit.
7-Eleven then fired Crothers because he was going to miss more than three days of work, the lawsuit states.
In a statement, Brown refuted EEOC's claims and said he believes the company will be vindicated in the case.
“For more than 60 years, 7-Eleven has conducted business in central Oklahoma. Our record with the EEOC has demonstrated time and again that not just legal — but fair — treatment of our employees is an important value for our family's business,” Brown said. “This is the first EEOC lawsuit that we have had to defend. We do not understand or agree with the position taken by the EEOC, but we are confident that the facts will show that we did things the right way.”
The EEOC filed the lawsuit against Brown-Thompson General Partnership on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City-based convenience store chain is not affiliated with the Dallas-based national chain, but is authorized to use the 7-Eleven name in Oklahoma.
Brown-Thompson operates about 112 convenience stores in central Oklahoma and employs more than 1,000 workers at its stores, bakery and warehouse and distribution center.
Crothers' medical condition is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to such workers under the federal law, said Patrick Holman, senior trial attorney for the EEOC's Oklahoma City area office.
“What we found is that 7-Eleven had a very firm practice of basically allowing light or restricted duty only to those persons who were injured on the job,” Holman said. “It was their practice to not even consider light duty to people who had disabilities, even though they had a legal right to reasonable accommodation.”
The EEOC's lawsuit claims that 7-Eleven also has particularly “inflexible” three-day leave policy for sick or disabled workers if they were not eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“7-Eleven would essentially terminate the employees who required more than three days off work,” Holman said.
The EEOC attempted to reach a settlement with 7-Eleven before filing the lawsuit, Holman said.
The agency is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages from 7-Eleven, as well as a court order requiring 7-Eleven to change its employee policies.