ELKINS, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a lawsuit June 6 against national retailer Big Lots Stores Inc. for allegations of condoning disability harassment and punishing an employee without disabilities for associating with a co-worker with disabilities.

"The EEOC will vigorously protect the rights of workers with disabilities to earn a living without being subjected to workplace harassment, discrimination or retaliation," said EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "Similarly, the EEOC is committed to vindicating the ADA rights of workers who seek to assist and protect their co-workers with disabilities."

According to EEOC, the defendants allowed a retail employee with hearing and speech disabilities to be subjected to harassment by coworkers at its Elkins, West Virginia, store. Additionally, Big Lots allegedly refused to select the employee for various vacant openings at the store that she sought. Big Lots also purportedly punished the employee’s department manager for reporting the hostile work environment to Big Lots management.

"Employees with disabilities have a right to be free from harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” said EEOC district director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. "Employers need to heighten their awareness to the application of federal anti-discrimination law to individuals with disabilities and act accordingly."

EEOC seeks injunctive relief and court-ordered job instatement and reinstatement. Additionally, the agency seeks monetary remedies to the two employees, past and future lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

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