Circle K agrees to settle with the EEOC over allegations that it discriminated against expecting mothers.
Arizona-based Circle K Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $8 million following claims that it discriminated against its pregnant employees, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The convenience store chain’s nationwide agreement with the EEOC was made after the federal agency determined it had “reasonable cause” to believe the company violated the rights of pregnant employees and those with disabilities.
Multiple charges of discrimination against the company had resulted in an investigation by the EEOC, which concluded with Circle K’s voluntary payment agreement At issue was whether the company violated the rights of employees, denying them reasonable accommodations, forcing unpaid leave, retaliating or terminating their employment. Several employees complained that they were either fired or forced to take unpaid leave due to pregnancy or medical conditions. These types of actions are a violation of employees’ rights stemming from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The Circle K brand collectively refers to Circle Stores and Mac’s Convenience Stores, LLC. The settlement, which is in effect for four years, includes a class fund to compensate employees who were impacted between July 10, 2009, and September 26, 2022.
Officials from the EEOC have stated that the law requires employers to give employees who are pregnant or have a disability the chance to request reasonable accommodations at work. These can include additional leave; modified work schedules, duties or equipment; or reassignment if the employer determines no reasonable accommodation is available in the current position.
In addition to the monetary settlement, Circle K has agreed to take several actions internally and update its policies. It will require all employees to have anti-discrimination training and ensure manager evaluations to include compliance with EEOC laws. The company will also appoint a coordinator to oversee policies on pregnancy-related disability and requests for reasonable accommodations, and it will establish climate surveys and exit interviews for employees.
The agreement was reached through the EEOC’s conciliation process, avoiding litigation. It is one of the largest settlements by the EEOC in the last decade. “We are pleased Circle K worked cooperatively with the EEOC to reach this conciliation agreement and, through our joint efforts, we have been able to bring about real change at Circle K without resorting to litigation,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in an EEOC press release.
Circle K officials said that while the company had expanded its operations between 2010 and 2015, adding “thousands of stores and tens of thousands of employees,” it has been working on improving its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act throughout the last decade. Circle K is one of the largest independent convenience store operators in the United States, with more than 7,000 stores. Most operate under the Circle K name;however, some still operate under the Holiday banner, according to the company’s website.
“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,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “Employers who don’t give current employees a reassignment to an open position after the employer decides there is no reasonable accommodation available in the current position are also in danger of violating the law.”