EEOC v. Safeway, Inc. – Lawsuit for Disability Discrimination During Hiring Process

In a lawsuit filed against Safeway, Inc. today, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims that the grocery chain store acted contrary to federal law. EEOC accuses Safeway of refusing to assist and employ a competent deaf applicant for a number of store jobs in Seattle, Washington.

According to the commission, Joel Silbert made an online application in July 2017. Through the application, he sought food, courtesy, produce and Starbucks clerk jobs at a Safeway store located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Silbert was shortlisted for an interview based on his qualifications and experience working similar jobs. Things took a different turn when Silbert revealed that he would need an interpreter for the interview since he was deaf. The in-store hiring recruiter responded to this, saying that she had no idea about providing interpreters. The recruiter declined Silbert’s offer when he provided names and contact details of some interpreters that Safeway could engage for purposes of the interview, saying that she would respond to him. EEOC says that since Silbert did not hear from them, he decided to place several calls to the store over the following week. He was either placed on hold or told that nobody was available.

The act of turning down a qualified applicant based on disability runs contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before filing suit in US District Court for the Western District of Washington the EEOC had tried to use their conciliation process to negotiate a pre-litigation settlement. Apart from monetary damages for Silbert, the EEOC also seeks injunctive relief, including but not limited to training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the workplace and compliance reporting.

Nancy Sienko, EEOC Seattle Field Director, said that it is important to ensure that fears and stereotypes do not hamper objectivity while evaluating an individual’s potential at the workplace during the hiring process.

Sienko pointed out that in its 2017 – 2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), the Commission had identified six national priorities. Among these priorities was the elimination of barriers in hiring, particularly hiring practices that discriminate against people living with disabilities.

Teri Healy, the Senior Trial Attorney for EEOC, made it clear that this particular applicant not only had the requisite qualifications but was also worthy of being considered for a job at the grocery store. He went on to note that the supervisors he previously worked under were satisfied with his performance and that customers were fond of him. Healy argued that were it not for the disability discrimination that frustrated his efforts to get hired, there was no reason why he would not have done equally well at Safeway.