October 5, 2022
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Employer Disclosed Employee’s Confidential Medical Information, Harassed Her, Retaliated Against Her and Fired Her for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
[A] Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based Tractor Supply Company violated federal law and the civil rights of an employee with a disability when it publicized her confidential medical information, subjected her to a hostile work environment, disciplined her without justification, and ultimately fired her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
The employee was born with a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, which is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Tractor Supply Company learned about the employee’s disability because its Laurel, Mississippi store manager persistently questioned her to explain why she could not work a certain shift, which conflicted with a prescheduled medical appointment for her disability. The repeated questioning forced the employee to disclose her confidential medical information.
The company publicized the employee’s disability to co-workers and customers in the company’s Hattiesburg store to which the employee had recently been promoted, who then harassed the employee because of her condition. When the employee complained about this harassment and the disclosure of her confidential medication information, the company disciplined her without justification and ultimately fired her.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits: the disclosure of an employee’s confidential medical information; discrimination against individuals with a disability; subjecting an individual to a hostile work environment because of their disability; and retaliation against an employee who opposes unlawful conduct.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Tractor Supply Company, Case No. 2:22-cv-00131-KS-MTP) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi after its Jackson Area Office completed an investigation and first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages for the victim, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief against the company to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.
“An employee should be able to trust that their employer will protect the privacy of their confidential medical information,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Bradley Anderson. “They should also be able to work without worrying about whether they will be harassed because of their disability. That’s what the ADA requires, and the EEOC is committed to forcing these important protections under the law.”
“Tractor Supply Company created and maintained a hostile work environment for this employee by publicizing her private medical information and then failing to address the harassment this generated,” said Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District. “Rather than protect this employee from harassment, the company fired her. This is unlawful under the ADA, and the EEOC will hold any employer accountable when it violates this crucial federal law.”
Tractor Supply Company describes itself as the nation’s largest rural lifestyle retailer. It employs nearly 50,000 individuals across 49 states.
For more information on disability discrimination, please visit eeoc.gov/disability-discrimination.
The EEOC’s Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.