Grocery chain pays $280,000 to settle deaf job applicants' EEOC claims

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Shoppers stand at the entryway of a Sprouts Farmers Market in Los Angeles, California August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

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  • Company didn't provide interpreters during job interviews-EEOC
  • Similar claims filed against large companies like Walmart

(Reuters) - Arizona-based supermarket operator Sprouts Farmers Market will pay $280,000 to settle claims that it refused to hire three deaf job applicants or provide sign-language interpreters during job interviews, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

Sprouts, in a consent decree filed jointly with the EEOC in Colorado federal court, on Friday also agreed to overhaul its policies on disability accommodations and provide training to managers. Sprouts, which is represented by Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, denied wrongdoing.

The EEOC in a September complaint said Sprouts managers had contacted the three applicants to interview them for cashier positions at Colorado stores. But the company then failed to make arrangements for sign-language interpreters and ignored the applicants when they followed up about their requests for accommodations, the commission said.

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One of the applicants, Raymond Clark, intervened as a plaintiff in the case last month.

Sprouts, which operates 340 stores in 23 states, and its lawyers at Ogletree, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did Clark's lawyer, Iris Halpern of Rathod Mohamedbhai in Denver.

Amy Burkholder, director of the EEOC's Denver Field Office, said in a statement deaf workers face barriers to employment not encountered by others.

“This settlement highlights the EEOC’s commitment to breaking down those barriers and ensuring deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are afforded equal employment opportunities," she said.

The EEOC has filed a series of similar lawsuits accusing employers of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to provide sign-language interpreters at job interviews.

In an April lawsuit in Chicago federal court, the commission claims Walmart Inc contacted a deaf applicant for a job at a Decatur, Illinois store, but never followed up with him after he requested an interpreter for the interview. Walmart has denied wrongdoing.

The case is EEOC v. SFM LLC, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, No. 1:21-cv-02600.

For the EEOC: Mary O'Neill

For Clark: Iris Halpern of Rathod Mohamedbhai

For SFM: Michael Bell of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart

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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