Hobby Lobby is in hot water! The world’s largest privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A cashier at Hobby Lobby’s Olathe, KS, store has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. When she started working part-time at Hobby Lobby in August of 2020, she didn’t have a service dog. When she got one, she requested that Hobby Lobby allow her to use her fully trained service dog at work as a reasonable accommodation. She said the dog helped her with the symptoms caused by her disorders.
According to the lawsuit, the store manager requested medical documentation to support her request and sent the matter up the chain of command to corporate HR. The cashier provided a letter from her mental health provider.
ADA undue hardship?
Unfortunately, after meeting with an HR specialist, she was denied the reasonable accommodation. The HR rep said the service dog would “present a safety concern because a co-worker or customer might be allergic to or trip over the dog or the dog might break something.” In addition, the store manager refused to allow the cashier to bring her service dog to the store to see if the dog presented “undue hardships to the store’s operations,” according to the lawsuit.
Here’s the head-scratcher: That specific Hobby Lobby store allows customers to bring their service and non-service dogs into it.
The cashier took a week off to train with her new service dog and returned to work with the dog in tow to try once again to get Hobby Lobby to change its mind. She was sent home and told if she couldn’t work without the dog, it would be considered “job abandonment,” the lawsuit stated.
She went home and didn’t return to work.
Hobby Lobby ended the cashier’s employment.
Filed discrimination charges
The ex-employee then contacted the EEOC and filed a discrimination charge alleging Hobby Lobby violated Title I of the ADA.
On Nov. 12, 2021, the EEOC sent Hobby Lobby a Letter of Determination, stating it found reasonable cause that the company violated the ADA and invited the company to participate in negotiations to eliminate discriminatory practices. After being unable to reach an agreement, the EEOC issued a Notice of Failure of Conciliation to Hobby Lobby on Feb. 23, 2022.
The EEOC determined that as defined under the ADA, the cashier was a qualified individual with disabilities, and used her trained medical service dog to help manage her condition. The Commission also determined Hobby Lobby “engaged in unlawful employment practices” by refusing to make reasonable accommodation for the cashier’s known mental and physical limitations. And that allowing her to use her service dog was a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled her to safely perform her part-time clerk job without imposing undue hardships on the business.
In the lawsuit, the EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and reinstatement for the cashier. It’s also seeking injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.