Charlotte retailer agrees to multimillion-dollar settlement over discrimination claims

Charlotte retailer agrees to multimillion-dollar settlement over discrimination claims
The Cato at 3124 Eastway Crossing Drive in Charlotte. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com­mission said Monday that Charlotte-based retailer Cato Corporation has agreed to a $3.5 million settlement after a “nationwide, systemic investigation” into the company uncovered discrimination against pregnant employees and others with disabilities.

CHARLOTTE, NC (Deon Roberts/Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte-based women’s fashion retailer Cato Corporation has agreed to a $3.5 million settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com­mission, the agency said Monday, after a “nationwide, systemic investigation” uncovered discrimination against pregnant employees and workers with disabilities.

Cato denied reasonable accommodations for those employees and made certain workers take unpaid leaves of absence and/or terminated them because of their disabilities, the EEOC said in announcing results of a joint investigation by the agency’s Chicago and Philadelphia offices.

“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,” EEOC Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman said in a statement.

Cato’s settlement with the EEOC will provide for a claims process to distribute the $3.5 million to employees who were terminated because of their pregnancies or disabilities, the agency said.

Cato has also agreed to revise its employment policies to more fully consider whether medical restrictions of pregnant employees or those with disabilities can be reasonably accommodated, according to the EEOC.

And the firm will conduct company-wide training for more than 10,000 of its employees and report to the EEOC periodic­ally over three years on its responses to requests for reasonable accommodation.

Cato operates about 1,300 stores in 32 states under the names “Cato”, “Versona”, “it’s Fashion” and “It’s Fashion Metro,” according to its website.

The EEOC said in a statement it commended Cato for entering the voluntary settlement and “making meaningful policy changes.”

A Cato official did not immediately provide comment.

Publicly-traded Cato is one of Charlotte’s oldest retailers.