LOUIS – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [March 7,
2007] filed an employment discrimination class lawsuit against Walgreen
Company, the Illinois-based national drugstore chain, alleging widespread
racial bias against thousands of African American workers.
The EEOC charges in the suit that Walgreens assigns
managers, management trainees, and pharmacists to low-performing stores and
to stores in African American communities because of their race.
Additionally, the EEOC asserts that Walgreens denies these managers and
professionals promotional opportunities based on race – all in violation
of federal law.
“This lawsuit demonstrates that the Commission’s
focus on systemic cases will be a powerful weapon to tackle obvious as well
as subtle forms of race discrimination,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp.
“We will not rest until workplace decision-making is based on merit rather
than immutable and irrelevant characteristics, such as race or color.”
Walgreens’ actions were investigated by the St.
Louis and Miami district offices of the EEOC after more than 20 current and
former employees from around the country complained to the federal agency.
The EEOC filed the litigation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (Case No. 07-cv-00172-MJR-CJP) in the U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of Illinois, after first attempting to reach a voluntary
settlement with Walgreens.
EEOC St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr.,
said, “Essentially, Walgreens has made store assignments based on race.
This policy has served to restrict the opportunities for advancement of
African American employees at Walgreens stores nationwide.”
A group of current and former African American
managers filed a private lawsuit making similar allegations in June 2005.
That lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of Illinois, and the plaintiffs in that case have asked
the court to certify it as a class action.
Johnny Tucker, one of the Walgreens employees who
reported the discrimination, said, “Walgreens has erected barriers that
hinder qualified African Americans in their pursuit of advancement through
promotions and job assignments. Our plea is for our judicial system to take
notice and require Walgreens to end discrimination against African Americans
in its work force.”
EEOC St. Louis Regional Attorney Robert G. Johnson
said the Commission seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as
well as injunctive relief for the class of aggrieved workers. “It is
unthinkable in this day and age that a company of Walgreens’ size and
reputation would differentiate between its managers based on their race,”
he said. “All individuals deserve the freedom to compete in the workplace
on a fair and level playing field.”
According to its web site (www.walgreens.com),
Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. “is the nation’s largest drugstore
chain with fiscal 2006 sales of $47.4 billion. The company operates 5,584
stores in 47 states and Puerto Rico.”
On February 28, EEOC Chair Earp launched the agency
E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment), a
national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focusing on new and
emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace. Further
information about the E-RACE Initiative is available on the EEOC’s web
site at http://www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/index.html.
In Fiscal Year 2006, the EEOC received 27,238 charges
alleging race-based discrimination, accounting for 36 percent of the
agency’s private sector caseload. Historically, race-based charges have
been the most frequent type of filing with EEOC offices nationwide. The EEOC
has also observed a substantial increase over the past 15 years in
discrimination charge filings based on color, which have risen from 374 in
FY 1992 to 1,241 in FY 2006.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws
prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, gender
(including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, age,
disability and retaliation. Further information about the EEOC is available
on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.