Party City Faces Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
National retailer for party supplies Party City is facing a disability discrimination lawsuit after failing to hire an employee that requires a job coach to accommodate her disability. Party City Corporation violated federal law by failing to hire a qualified employee with a disability at its Nashua, N.H. location, after it became aware that she required a job coach as a reasonable accommodation for her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, the disabled applicant, then a senior in high school who was on the autism spectrum and suffered from severe anxiety, had been receiving services from Easter Seals of New Hampshire for a number of years to build up her self-confidence, including around working and applying for a job. One of these Easter Seals employees went with her in October 2017 to apply for a sales associate job with Party City during its busy season. The applicant received a job interview, but when the hiring manager discovered that the woman accompanying her was not her mother and instead was a job coach, the hiring manager’s attitude changed dramatically.
The EEOC’s lawsuit further alleges that the hiring manager told the job coach that Party City had hired people “like that” (people with disabilities with job coaches) in the past and that it had not gone well. The hiring manager made disparaging comments about those individuals. Although both the applicant and the job coach explained to the hiring manager that the applicant had been successful shadowing others in previous retail jobs, as well as in a volunteer role at a day care center, the hiring manager was uninterested in either the applicant’s abilities or in the limited role the job coach would play. The hiring manager repeatedly tried to cut the interview short by telling the job coach in a patronizing tone, “thank you for bringing her here,” while the applicant was still in the room. The hiring manager also stated, in the applicant’s presence, that the Party City employee who had encouraged the applicant to apply would hire anyone, and would “even hire an ant.”
After Party City failed to hire the applicant because of her disability, Party City hired six sales associates in the days immediately after the applicant’s interview. For at least two of the hires, it was their first job: one was a 16-year-old and the other was a high school graduate.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and imposes a requirement that employees with disabilities be provided a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship on the employer. One of these accommodations can be the use of a job coach.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire (EEOC v. Party City Corporation, Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-838) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief. The agency’s litigation efforts will be led by Senior Trial Attorney Mark Penzel.
“Federal law requires employers to consider disabled job applicants based on their abilities, not on demeaning stereotypes,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “Party City completely failed to do so here.”
EEOC’s New York district director, Kevin Berry, added, “Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law, absent undue hardship. Here, the job coach, who would only have helped cue the applicant with her job tasks as she learned her job and for whom Party City would not have had to pay, was a completely reasonable accommodation that would have caused it no hardship at all.”
EEOC’s New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.