Circle K settles pregnancy, disability bias probe for $8 mln

A customer enters a Circle K shop, owned by Canadian convenience-store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
  • Company denied accommodations, fired workers, U.S. agency says
  • Nationwide settlement is among agency's largest in past decade

(Reuters) - Convenience store chain Circle K Stores Inc will pay $8 million to settle an investigation over allegations it denied accommodations to pregnant and disabled workers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said on Tuesday.

The settlement resolves numerous complaints made by Circle K workers nationwide, many of whom said they were required to take unpaid leave or were fired because of pregnancy or medical conditions, the EEOC said in a release.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities, as long as they can still perform their duties. Another law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires that pregnant workers receive the same arrangements as coworkers with disabilities.

The $8 million settlement fund will cover an unidentified number of employees who worked at Circle K stores between July 10, 2009, and Sept. 26, 2022, the EEOC said.

The investigation stemmed from complaints filed between 2010 and 2015, according to Mark Novak, Circle K's vice president of human resources. Since then, the company has "made a focused effort on centralizing and strengthening our ADA compliance efforts," Novak said in a statement.

Arizona-based Circle K is a unit of Canadian convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

Mary Jo O'Neill, the regional attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix office, said the case highlighted the risk employers such as Circle K take when they limit accommodations.

"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," O'Neill said in a statement.

The EEOC routinely settles discrimination complaints filed by workers, but most involve individual employees and relatively small sums. The settlement with Circle K is one of the largest announced by the commission over the last decade.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.