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Judge rules AutoZone can't limit disability bias case to three stores


A U.S. District Court judge has rejected an effort by auto parts retailer AutoZone Inc. to limit a national disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to just three stores.

The EEOC filed suit against the Memphis, Tennessee-based retailer in 2014 in U.S. District Court in Chicago for allegedly implementing a nationwide attendance policy that failed to accommodate certain disability-related absences in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AutoZone Inc. and AutoZoners L.L.C.

In the fourth disability lawsuit that has been filed against AutoZone in recent years, the EEOC said that from 2009 until at least 2011, the retailer had assessed employees nationwide points for absences, without permitting any general exception for disability-related absences, and that as a result employees with “even modest” numbers of disability-related absences were fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to Monday’s ruling by the District Court judge, the EEOC had first issued determinations in September 2012 that the retailer had discriminated against the three individuals, who worked at three different Illinois stores.

The agency then amended the determinations in May 2013 to say there was reasonable cause to believe it had also discriminated against a class of other employees throughout the United States.

AutoZone filed a motion with the court to limit the litigation’s scope, and therefore discovery, to just the three Illinois stores, charging that the EEOC had failed to conduct a nationwide investigation of its employment practices.

“AutoZone does not identify a rule of civil procedure that authorizes its motion” to limit the litigation’s scope, said Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. in his ruling, which was announced by the EEOC on Tuesday.

The court “is able to determine from the EEOC’s amended determinations the EECO conducted an ‘investigation’ as required” by the ADA, said the ruling.

A status hearing on the case has been set for Nov. 19.

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