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Big Lots to pay $100K after lawsuit involving Elkins store

ELKINS — Big Lots Stores, Inc. will pay $100,000 as part of a settlement in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit involving its Elkins store.

The lawsuit alleged that a retail worker with hearing and speech disabilities at the Elkins Big Lots store “was subjected to harassment by her co-workers … A number of store employees often mocked the worker’s hearing disability and manner of speech, frequently using derogatory and highly offensive terms, and Big Lots management officials were aware of the harassment but failed to take appropriate action,” according to a press release from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit was brought by the federal EEOC in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in Elkins.

The U.S. District Court previously denied Big Lots’ motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the case, and the EEOC and Big Lots reached an agreement to voluntarily settle the case by consent decree before a scheduled trial, according to the EEOC press release.

The lawsuit also alleges that “Big Lots refused to promote the employee because of her disabilities and in retaliation for reporting the harassment,” and that “Big Lots subjected a non-disabled department manager to discrimination because of her association with the harassment victim and in retaliation for her efforts to protect her co-worker from harassment.”

The lawsuit said the alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability or association with a disabled person and retaliation for opposing such discrimination.

In addition to paying a total of $100,000 to the two workers, the agreed consent decree approved by the U.S. District Court requires that “Big Lots implement various measures to prevent workplace disability discrimination, including ADA investigation documentation requirements, furnishing reports to the EEOC concerning certain allegations of disability harassment or discrimination and retaliation, a training requirement, and posting a notice to employees of the Elkins store relating to the settlement,” the press release states.

“Under federal law, workers have a right to earn a living free from harassment because of their disabilities,” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said. “But of comparable importance is the legal right of all workers, whether they’re disabled or not disabled, to oppose and report workplace conduct that they believe to be disability harassment or other forms of discrimination. Workers who exercise that right and seek to protect their co-workers or themselves should be applauded, not punished, and the EEOC will act to ensure those workers’ rights are respected.”

EEOC District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, “Disability harassment and other forms of harassment continue to be a pervasive problem in the American workplace. It is important for employers to recognize the scale of that problem, to acknowledge their own responsibility, and to work proactively to develop and implement solutions within their own organizations.”

The lawsuit was commenced by the EEOC’s Pittsburgh Area Office.