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11/30/2022

Circle K Reaches Agreement to Resolve EEOC Charges

The $8 million settlement will cover impacted individuals employed by the convenience retailer between July 10, 2009 and Sept. 26, 2022.
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PHOENIX — Circle K Stores Inc. entered into a nationwide agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to resolve disability, pregnancy and retaliation discrimination charges.

The agreement resolves multiple charges of discrimination filed against Circle K and related entities after an investigation from the EEOC determined it had reasonable cause to believe the convenience store retailer denied reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and those with disabilities.

According to the EEOC's findings, Circle K subjected these employees to actions such as involuntary unpaid leave, retaliation, requiring employees be 100 percent healed to return to work, or terminations. These actions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

As part of the resolution, Circle K will pay $8 million, which includes a class fund to compensate aggrieved individuals and will cover impacted individuals employed at Circle K between July 10, 2009 to Sept. 26, 2022.

Additionally, the company has agreed to update its policies, as needed, such as:

  • Appoint a coordinator to provide oversight on pregnancy-related disability policies, requests for reasonable accommodations and maintenance of records;
  • Conduct climate surveys and exit interviews with specific attention to their accommodation process;
  • Conduct anti-discrimination training to all employees, including management; and
  • Require performance evaluation of managers include consideration of compliance with EEO laws.

The settlement is in effect for four years.

Circle K is the global convenience brand of Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. Its U.S. headquarters are based in Tempe, Ariz.

"The EEOC investigation stemmed from discrimination charges filed between 2010 and 2015. Circle K expanded our operations and integrated thousands of stores and tens of thousands of employees during this period," said Circle K's Vice President of Human Resources Mark Novak. "Throughout the past decade, we have made a focused effort on centralizing and strengthening our ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance efforts."

The pre-litigation agreement was voluntarily entered into by Circle K and obtained through the EEOC's conciliation process.

"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," said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

"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," noted Melinda Caraballo, acting district director of the EEOC Phoenix District Office. "These accommodations can include actions such as additional leave beyond FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave, modified work schedules, modified duties, modified policies, equipment and reassignment, as a last resort."

The EEOC's Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction over Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and most of New Mexico, including Albuquerque.

"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."

Additional information on the settlement is available here.

Couche-Tard operates in 26 countries and territories, with more than 14,100 stores, of which approximately 10,800 offer road transportation fuel. It is one of the largest independent convenience store operators in the United States, as well as in Canada, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Ireland.