- Circle K, a division of Alimentation Couche-Tard, will pay $8 million as part of an agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to settle discrimination charges, according to a Tuesday press release.
- The EEOC said it found “reasonable cause” to believe Circle K discriminated against employees who were pregnant or disabled, and in at least one case fired an employee.
- Circle K will also need to make a series of operational changes for the next four years as part of the agreement.
Circle K at times “denied reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and those with disabilities, subjecting them to actions such as involuntary unpaid leave, retaliation, requiring employees be 100% healed to return to work, or terminations,” according to the release.
The $8 million will be paid out as a class fund for compensation to affected employees who worked at the company between July 10, 2009, and Sept. 26, 2022. Current or former employees during that period who were not allowed reasonable accommodations for pregnancy or disability can contact the EEOC to apply to join the class.
In addition to the payout, the settlement states Circle K must make a number of operational changes over the next four years, including updating its policies; appointing someone to oversee its pregnancy-related disability policies, accommodation requests and maintenance of its records; and conducting anti-discrimination training for all employees from management down.
Part of managers’ performance evaluations must also include an analysis of how well they adhere to EEO laws.
The settlement comes as c-stores and retail struggle with hiring workers. C-stores also have a problem with employee retention, having experienced a turnover rate of 150% in 2021, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores as reported by Chain Store Age.
“Employers must ensure that all individuals with disabilities or those who are pregnant are given an opportunity to request an accommodation and are granted accommodations when required by law,” said Melinda Caraballo, acting district director of the EEOC Phoenix District Office. “These accommodations can include actions such as additional leave beyond FMLA leave, modified work schedules, modified duties, modified policies, equipment, and reassignment, as a last resort.”
This is not the first time a large c-store chain has run afoul of the EEOC. In 2018, Murphy Oil, the company that owns the Murphy USA c-store chain, paid an employee $100,000 after allegedly requiring him to do work that was against his doctor’s orders, then firing him after he complained to management.
Also, in 2016, Brown-Thompson General Partnership — a company which then owned 110 stores under the 7-Eleven name and whose chain was later bought out by 7-Eleven Inc. — was sued by the EEOC for firing an employee instead of granting reasonable accommodations for their medical condition. It ultimately paid $160,000 to nine alleged victims.