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Feds say Jacksons discriminated against injured dispatcher, deaf job applicant

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says Jacksons Food Stores discriminated against two people, in Idaho and Washington state. The agency has filed suit against the Meridian-based company in the two states. The company denies the allegations.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says Jacksons Food Stores discriminated against two people, in Idaho and Washington state. The agency has filed suit against the Meridian-based company in the two states. The company denies the allegations. jsowell@idahostatesman.com

Jacksons Food Stores and Jackson Energy refused to accommodate an injured gasoline truck dispatcher and a deaf store applicant, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in two lawsuits filed against the Treasure Valley company.

The EEOC has gone to federal court in Idaho and Washington state, seeking damages for Penny Wightman and Nathaniel Prugh and orders requiring the companies — both founded by John Jackson and run out of the same Meridian office — to comply with the 1990 act.

“We will file our answer and we will be denying the allegations,” said Tamsen Leachman, a Portland attorney representing the company in the two cases. She said Jacksons has not yet been served with a copy of the complaint.

Wightman was fired in November 2015 after Jackson Energy said its Idaho employee exceeded the number of days allowed off for medical leave.

“Jacksons acknowledged that Ms. Wightman was an excellent employee,” EEOC trial attorney May Che said in a written release. “But when she became injured, the company refused to even consider potential reasonable accommodations that might have allowed her to fully perform her duties, even with her restrictions. Instead, Jacksons had her train her replacement, forced her to take medical leave, then discarded her after that expired.”

Wightman broke her right wrist on July 18, 2015. She underwent surgery the next week to realign her wrist bone, which required placement of metal rods, plates and screws, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boise.

The injury required Wightman to undergo physical therapy and to take medication for her pain. Wightman also reported she had trouble sleeping because of the pain.

Wightman was later allowed to return to work with restrictions.

Wightman said she was later asked to train a colleague to fulfill the functions of her job. A week later, she said Jacksons required her to go on medical leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act until she was able to return to her job without medical restrictions.

She did not return to work before she was terminated, the suit says.

The EEOC is seeking back pay and interest, along with punitive damages for what the agency claims was Jacksons’ “malicious or reckless conduct.”

In the second case, Prugh applied for a customer service position at a Jacksons Food Stores location in Sammamish, Wash., east of Seattle. When a store manager contacted Prugh to schedule an interview, he informed the manager he was deaf and would require an American Sign Language interpreter for the interview.

According to the EEOC, the manager denied the request for an interpreter and rescinded the offer for an interview.

The federal agency contends Jacksons acted illegally “with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Prugh,” according to the complaint.

In the company’s answer, Leachman wrote that Jacksons “denies violating any laws.”

The agency is seeking pay with interest and other relief to undo the harm to Prugh.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

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