EEOC Slaps Walgreens with Racial Discrimination Suit

March 8, 2007 ( - The government on Wednesday sued Walgreen Company, alleging that giant drugstore chain systematically discriminated against African American workers in job placement and in promotional opportunities.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC) charged in the federal court suit that Walgreens assigns managers, management trainees and pharmacists to low-performing stores and to stores in African American communities because of their race. The agency also alleged that Walgreens denies the managers and other employees promotion chances based on race.

According to an EEOC announcement , the agency investigation resulting in the lawsuit was sparked by more than 20 current and former employees from around the country who filed racial discrimination complaints.

“The effect of the practice has been to deprive (plaintiffs) and other African-American employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees because of their race,” the EEOC charged in the suit. “The unlawful employment practices are and were intentional.”

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.

A New Racism Initiative

The EEOC recently launched a new initiative to combat workplace racism (See EEOC Modernizes Approach to Combat Racism ).

According to a Chicago Tribune news report, as part of the new initiative, Earp issued a mandate to all 15 of the commission’s district offices to litigate at least one systemic bias class-action case a year.

In the past, EEOC attorneys have had to wait for complainants to come forward before launching an investigation. But under E-RACE, investigators are encouraged to analyze companies’ employment data and engage in matched-pair studies to reveal preferences for certain candidates, the news report said.

“We want to look at the screen-out factors that employers use,” Earp said, according to the news report. “Is that credit report really necessary? African-Americans and Hispanics have more credit issues. We’ll be looking at names and whether employers are using them to make the first cut, especially in Internet applications. Your sorority or your school or your ZIP code can be a giveaway on a resume too. There are processes for us to reach that victim. We’ll do it in reverse; we’ll go to them and tell them about the bias.”

According to the agency announcement, the EEOC in Fiscal Year 2006 received 27,238 charges alleging race-based discrimination, accounting for 36% of the agency’s private sector caseload. Historically, race-based charges have been the most frequent type of filing with EEOC offices.

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 agency said.

According to its Web site, the Deerfield, Illinois.-based Walgreen Co. had fiscal 2006 sales of $47.4 billion. The company operates 5,584 stores in 47 states and Puerto Rico.