Convenience store chain where Biden bought snacks while campaigning hit with discrimination lawsuit

A supermarket chain where President Joe Biden stopped for snacks this week while campaigning in Pennsylvania has been hit with a lawsuit by federal officials who allege the company discriminated against minority job applicants.

Sheetz Inc., which operates more than 700 stores in six states, discriminates against Black, Native American and multiracial job seekers by automatically excluding applicants who the company determines have failed a criminal background check, U.S. officials said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit in Baltimore against Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Sheetz and two subsidiaries, alleging that the chain’s longstanding hiring practices disproportionately impact minority candidates and thus violate federal civil rights law.

Sheetz said Thursday that it “does not tolerate any form of discrimination.”

“Diversity and inclusion are essential parts of who we are. We take these allegations seriously. We have attempted to work with the EEOC for nearly eight years to find common ground and resolve this dispute,” company spokesman Nick Ruffner said in a statement.

The privately held, family-owned company has more than 23,000 employees and operates convenience stores and gas stations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Wednesday, the day Biden stopped at a Sheetz market on a campaign swing in western Pennsylvania, where he bought snacks, posed for photos and chatted with customers and employees.

Federal officials said they are not alleging that Sheetz was motivated by racial animus, but that they take issue with the way the chain uses criminal background checks to screen job seekers. The company was sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, sex, religion and national origin.

“Federal law requires that employment practices that have a disparate impact because of race or other protected classifications must be demonstrated by the employer to be necessary to ensure the safe and efficient performance of the specific jobs at issue,” said EEOC attorney Debra M .Lawrence in a statement.

“Even if this necessity is proven, the practice remains unlawful if an alternative practice is available that is comparably effective in achieving the employer’s objectives but has less discriminatory effect,” Lawrence said.

It was not immediately clear how many applicants were affected, but the agency said Sheetz’s unlawful hiring practices date back to at least 2015.

The EEOC, an independent agency that enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination, is seeking to force Sheetz to offer jobs to applicants who have been unlawfully denied employment and to provide back pay, retroactive seniority and other benefits.

The EEOC began its investigation into the supermarket chain after two applicants filed complaints of employment discrimination.

The agency found that black applicants were considered to have failed the company’s criminal history screening and were denied a job 14.5% of the time, while multiracial job seekers were 13.5% of the time. time were turned away and Native Americans in 13 cases were turned away. %.

In contrast, fewer than 8% of white applicants were denied a job because of a failed background check, the EEOC’s lawsuit said.

The EEOC notified Sheetz in 2022 that it likely violated civil rights law, but the agency said its efforts to reach a settlement failed, prompting this week’s lawsuit.