PETCO to Pay $145,000 for Discriminating against Deaf Pet Stylist

Pet store giant PETCO Animal Supplies Stores Inc. will pay $145,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced. EEOC had charged the company with failing to accommodate a deaf pet groomer formerly employed at one of its stores in Aurora, Colo.

According to EEOC, San Diego-based PETCO hired Nancy Buchner -- who has more than 30 years' pet grooming experience -- as a pet stylist in 2001. Profoundly deaf since birth, Buchner communicates most effectively in sign language. Upon hire, PETCO's management assured Buchner that other employees would assist in scheduling her appointments via telephone as a reasonable accommodation.

However, EEOC asserted that a PETCO manager eventually refused to schedule customers for her, despite their specific requests for Buchner. In fact, PETCO employees inaccurately informed customers that Buchner no longer worked for the company as a means to funnel them to non-disabled pet groomers, according to EEOC. PETCO proceeded to unfairly penalize her during annual performance reviews for ineffective communication skills due to her inability to speak. Buchner eventually resigned in 2006.

EEOC filed suit against PETCO in April 2009 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. PETCO Animal Supplies Stores, Inc., Case No. 09-CV-00747 WYD-CBS), asserting that PETCO failed to reasonably accommodate Buchner and subjected her to disparate treatment due to her disability, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Aside from the monetary relief, the decree requires PETCO to implement an internal policy, procedures, and staff training to safeguard against disability discrimination. PETCO also must submit annual reports to EEOC to track future complaints of disability bias and requests for disability-related accommodations.

"We commend PETCO for implementing a companywide policy to prevent and address disability discrimination in the workplace," said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for EEOC's Los Angeles District Office. "We encourage other employers to follow suit and be mindful of the ADA in light of its recent amendment."

Olophius E. Perry, district director of EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, said, "With the 20th anniversary of the ADA on the horizon, it is important to remember that employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to ensure they have equal employment opportunities. Most often, as was the case here, the cost of accommodations is minimal."

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