Lawsuit alleges Nashua party store discriminated against job applicant because she has autismBy PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 23. 2018 10:06PM
CONCORD — A federal lawsuit filed in Concord claims a woman was denied a sales job at a Party City location in Nashua, after a store manager realized she has autism.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the lawsuit Sept. 19 in U.S. District Court in Concord.
According to court documents, Ashley Waxman, 20, filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging she was denied a job at Party City in Nashua because of her autism. The lawsuit claims that by not hiring her, the store violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability.
The EEOC filed suit last week after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement over the summer. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
“Federal law requires employers to consider disabled job applicants based on their abilities, not on demeaning stereotypes,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, in a statement. “Party City completely failed to do so here.”
According to court documents Waxman, 20, graduated from high school in June.
“She is on the autism spectrum, which substantially limits her in the major life activity of brain functioning, and also suffers from severe anxiety, which substantially limits her in the major life activity of interacting with others,” court documents say.
When she turned 18 in 2016, she was placed under the legal guardianship of her parents, and has received services from Easterseals of New Hampshire, according to court documents.
As part of those services, she worked with Easterseals employees to build up her self-confidence, including around working and applying for a job.
One of those employees was Julie Sousa, a job coach.
According to court paperwork, during the week of Oct. 6, 2017, Waxman visited the Party City in Nashua, to inquire about a job and pick up an application. During this visit, she was told by an employee that Party City was looking to hire new employees to assist with the busy fall season, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, Waxman returned to Party City with Sousa to drop off her job application for a sales associate position, and “was immediately asked to go into the backroom for an interview with Evelyn Hojlo, Party City’s Hiring Manager.”
Waxman was accompanied by Sousa during this interview.
“Initially, Ms. Hojlo thought that Ms. Sousa was Ms. Waxman’s mother,” the lawsuit claims. “Once Ms. Hojlo found out that Ms. Sousa was Ms. Waxman’s job coach and that Ms. Waxman had a disability, Ms. Hojlo’s attitude and demeanor changed. Ms. Hojlo told Ms. Sousa that Party City had hired people ‘like that’ — people with disabilities who needed job coaches — in the past and it had not gone well.”
The lawsuit claims Hojlo also made comments that “people like Ms. Waxman were not good workers because they slept on the job and played with the props in the store and would listen to music with headphones instead of working.”
“Ms. Hojlo was uninterested in whether Ms. Waxman could perform the essential functions of the job with the accommodation of a job coach from Easter Seals,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit states while Waxman was not hired for the job, Party City hired six sales associates in the nine days after her interview. According to court documents, each of these applicants applied on or after Oct. 10, 2017, the date of Waxman’s interview. Of those hired, the lawsuit claims, two were employed for less than three weeks, two for less than a month, and one for two months. According to court documents, for at least two of the hires it was their first job: one was a 16-year-old female, the other a male high school graduate.
“By failing to hire Ms. Waxman because of her disability and/or need for the reasonable accommodation of a job coach, Party City violated the ADA,” the lawsuit claims.
“Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law, absent undue hardship,” said EEOC’s New York district director Kevin Berry. “Here, the job coach, who would only have helped cue the applicant with her job tasks as she learned her job and for whom Party City would not have had to pay, was a completely reasonable accommodation that would have caused it no hardship at all.”
The lawsuit seeks damages for Waxman.