Pregnant Employees and Those With Disabilities Were Denied Reasonable Accommodations And Discharged, Federal Agency Found

CHICAGO / PHILADELPHIA – The Cato Corporation, a leading retailer of women’s fashion and accessories, has agreed to pay $3.5 million to resolve a nationwide, systemic investigation conducted jointly out of the Chicago and Philadelphia Offices of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com­mission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. The Cato Corporation, based in Charlotte, N.C., has also agreed to update its reasonable accommodation policies to ensure there is no discrimination against pregnant employees or those with disabilities.

The EEOC’s investigation found that The Cato Corporation denied reasonable accommodations to certain pregnant employees or those with disabilities, made certain employees take unpaid leaves of absence, and/or terminated them because of their disabilities.

Failing to accommodate pregnant women with restrictions and limitations violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Denying employees with disabilities job modifications, leaves of absence or returns to work as reasonable accommodations violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The agreement between EEOC and The Cato Corporation provides for a claims process to distribute the $3.5 million to Cato employees who were terminated due to their pregnancy or disabilities. The Cato Corporation has also agreed to revise its employment policies to more fully consider whether medical restrictions of its pregnant employees or those with disabilities can be reasonably accommodated. The Cato Corporation will also conduct companywide training for over 10,000 of its employees and report to the EEOC periodic­ally for three years on its responses to requests for reasonable accommodation by pregnant employees or those with disabilities.

“Giving employees a job modification that allows them to continue working can be a critical reasonable accommodation for pregnant women or people with disabilities when they really need that paycheck,” said EEOC Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman.

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, “We commend The Cato Corporation for entering into a voluntary settlement and for making meaningful policy changes so that employees with disabilities and women with pregnancy-related impairments will get the reasonable accom­modations they need to remain employed.”

The charges were investigated by staff in the EEOC’s Philadelphia and Chicago District Offices. The EEOC’s Office of Enterprise Data and Analytics also assisted in the investigation.

One of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the EEOC to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employ­ment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.