U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Agency Says Chain Store Fired Employee With Lifting Restriction at Its Beloit Gas Station Despite Long History of Successful Job Performance
MINNEAPOLIS – Woodman’s Food Markets, Inc., the Janesville, Wis.-based grocery store operator, violated federal disability discrimination law by firing an employee due to her lifting restriction, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to John Rowe, the EEOC Chicago district director whose jurisdiction includes Wisconsin, the agency’s administrative investigation which preceded the lawsuit revealed that Woodman’s fired long-time employee Kimberly McMillan-Goodwin from her position as a clerk in the Beloit, Wis., Woodman’s gas station. McMillan-Goodwin had a lifting restriction preventing her from lifting over 10 pounds. Even with the restriction, Rowe said, McMillan-Goodwin had successfully performed her duties in that position for years. When McMillan-Goodwin returned to work after an unrelated leave of absence due to injuries from a car accident, Woodman’s claimed it had changed the position so that she could no longer perform her job with her long-standing restriction, and that it had no other positions she could perform. Woodman’s then placed her on a one-year leave of absence, after which it terminated her employment.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on disabilities. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Western District of Wisconsin in Madison (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Woodman’s Food Markets, Inc.; Civil Action No. 10-cv-562), was brought only after the agency first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer through the EEOC’s conciliation process. In this case, the EEOC is seeking injunctive relief barring discrimination, and will seek back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on McMillan-Goodwin’s behalf. “
It is unfortunate that some managers still act as if it’s acceptable to deny jobs to people who are ready and able to work, simply because of a disability -- especially when the people they put on the street have a history of long, loyal successful performance,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “It really runs against most people’s sense of fundamental fairness and, beyond that, it violates federal law. That is why we are in this case and intend to pursue it as far as necessary.”
According to the company’s website (www.woodmans-food.com), Woodman’s is an employee-owned corporation operating 12 grocery store locations in Wisconsin and Illinois.
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.