Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a national arts-and-crafts retailer, violated federal law when it refused to reasonably accommodate a cashier at its Olathe, Kansas store by allowing her to use a service dog and then fired her because of her disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the suit, the employee advised her manager that she needed to bring her fully trained service dog to work to assist her with symptoms caused by PTSD, anxiety and depression.
The company’s human resources representative met with the employee to discuss her request but concluded the dog would present a safety concern because a coworker or customer might be allergic to or trip over the dog, or the dog might break something.
Even though Hobby Lobby allows customers to bring service dogs and other dogs to the Olathe store, managers were unwilling to allow the employee’s service dog in the store to see whether there was an actual safety concern.
Hobby Lobby ultimately terminated the employee when she could not work without her service dog.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:22-cv-02258) in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement via its conciliation process.
The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement for the employee, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
“Millions of Americans are successful, productive workers despite having mental health conditions that can be debilitating,” said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC’s St. Louis District office. “The ADA ensures equal employment opportunity for these individuals, including those who are assisted by service animals.”
David Davis, acting director of the EEOC’s St Louis District Office, added, “Service animals assist people with many types of disabilities – from vision and mobility impairments to seizure disorders and mental health conditions – to live and work independently. Employers must not reject service animals, or any other reasonable accommodation, based on stereotypes or assumptions regarding the safety or effectiveness of the accommodation.”
According to the company’s website, Hobby Lobby is the world’s largest privately-owned arts-and-crafts retailer, with over 43,000 employees working in over 900 stores in forty-seven states.