Published in Economic Development

EEOC sues Meijer over alleged ADA violations

BY Sunday, August 11, 2019 12:05pm

WALKER — A federal agency has accused supercenter retailer Meijer Inc. of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act over its treatment of an employee at a store in Oakland County in Southeast Michigan.  

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges Walker-based Meijer failed to provide long-time Commerce Township store employee Gary Simpkins with “a reasonable accommodation” for his disability, for which it later demoted him. 

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Simpkins, who has psoriatic arthritis, worked at Meijer since 1992, mostly as a cashier in the self-scan checkout area and at the store’s gas station, although he had at times filled in as a full-service cashier. In November 2016, a new customer service line leader removed Simpkins from the self-scan area, “claiming it was neither efficient nor fair to other employees” for him to work there, according to the court documents. 

The EEOC alleges that after Simpkins produced doctors notes about his condition and physical limitations, Meijer officials told him he could be reassigned as a part-time greeter, a position that would result in a $2.35 per hour pay cut and a loss of benefits, or face termination. 

The agency said in the court documents that Meijer “refused” Simpkins’ proposed accommodations, “including using a stool in the checkout lane, working in the gas station, resuming his prior U-Scan position, working at the customer service desk,” and another proposal that he take an open position at a different store. 

In the lawsuit, the EEOC claims Meijer’s actions “were done with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Simpkins,” who still works for reduced pay as greeter, although his position was made full-time.  

According to the court filings, the agency informed Meijer on Sept. 21 of last year that it found “reasonable cause” that the company violated the ADA, but subsequent discussions were “unable to secure … a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission,” which resulted in the lawsuit. 

The EEOC is asking the court to force Meijer to provide “reasonable accommodations” and institute new policies that offer equal employment opportunities to employees with disabilities. The agency also asks the court to force Meijer to “make Simpkins whole” by paying him back pay and damages, restoring his pay rate, and providing for past and future losses.

Frank Guglielmi, director of corporate communications at Meijer, declined to comment on the pending litigation. 

The lawsuit is the second by the EEOC against a West Michigan-based employer within the last five months. 

In March, the agency accused Saranac-based egg producer Herbruck Poultry Ranch Inc. of violating federal law by subjecting a worker to a hostile work environment because of her disability and by retaliating against her for complaining about the discrim­inatory work environment, as MiBiz previously reported. That case is still ongoing.

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