CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Utah-based convenience store chain has agreed to pay $115,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it improperly fired an HIV-positive bakery clerk in Wyoming.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal of Cheyenne on Friday signed off on a settlement agreement ending the lawsuit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed last year against Maverik, Inc. The company operates roughly 200 gas stations in Wyoming, Utah and other western states.
The lawsuit charged the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired a former clerk in 2008, two weeks after learning he was HIV-positive. The clerk entered the lawsuit with his own lawyer and will receive the payment.
The settlement, called a consent decree, requires Maverik not to discriminate against others on the basis of disability. It also requires the company to provide ADA training to its workers in Wyoming and to its supervisors throughout the company.
Cheyenne lawyer Bruce Moats represents the clerk. "The decree will help raise consciousness within the company of these issues, and I think that's just as important as the monetary amount," Moats said Monday.
The EEOC, in a written statement on Monday, said the company had employed the clerk for more than three years. The agency said the company fired him, "because of an alleged fear that he should not be working with food." The agency claimed the company failed to make reasonable accommodations for the clerk.
David Hancock, general counsel for Maverik in Salt Lake City, said Monday the company denies it violated the law and agreed to settle only to avoid further expenses.
"Maverik entered into the consent decree because the EEOC made such an agreement a condition of settlement in the case," Hancock said. "Maverik's existing policies and procedures are consistent with the decree and applicable law. Maverik firmly stands behind its policies and training that strictly prohibit discrimination."
Hancock declined to say if Maverik had some other explanation of why the clerk was fired if it wasn't because of concern that he not work in food preparation. "We just take the position that we didn't violate the law," he said.
Sean Ratliff, trial lawyer with the EEOC in Denver, said Monday his agency was happy with the outcome of the lawsuit.
"The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating based on myths or stereotypes about disabilities," Ratliff said. "And someone who has HIV, there's nothing about that individual that would prohibit them from working with food, which is what some of the evidence that we had in our lawsuit seemed to show. Now, of course, Maverik will contest that."
Ratliff said employers need to know about employees' impairments so they can make accommodations for them, but don't necessarily have to know about an employees' underlying condition. "It's enough to know what those impairments are, and at that point, the employer has an obligation to attempt to make reasonable accommodations for that individual," he said.