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PRESS RELEASE
7-22-14

EEOC Sues AutoZone for Race Discrimination

Auto Parts Giant Fired Black Manager for Resisting Race-Based Transfer, Federal Agency Charges

CHICAGO - Automotive parts retail chain AutoZone, Inc. violated federal law when it forced a black sales manager to transfer out of a store on the southwest side of Chicago because of his race and then fired him for resisting, the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a suit filed today.

According to the EEOC's complaint, AutoZone managers decided in 2012 to eliminate or limit the number of non-Hispanic employees working at the store, located at Kedzie and West 49th Street.  The EEOC's pre-suit administrative investigation, supervised by EEOC District Director John Rowe, revealed that the employer appeared to believe Hispanic customers of the store would prefer to be served by Hispanic employees.  As a result, the black sales manager was allegedly told to report to another store on the far south side of Chicago.  When he refused to do so, he was fired, the EEOC said. 

The EEOC brought the suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits limiting, segregating, or classifying employees on the basis of race.  It is also illegal for employers to base employment decisions on customers' discriminatory preferences - whether real or imagined.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The case, (EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-cv-5579) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve.   The government's litigation effort will be led by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Justin Mulaire.

"Fifty years after the adoption of the Civil Rights Act, a major employer transferring an employee simply because of his race and then firing him for not going along is unacceptable," said John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago.  "When the employer is a major national brand and a leader in its industry, it's even worse.  Everyone must understand that supposed customer preference is no excuse for discrimination - it's still illegal, and the EEOC will step in to challenge it." 

Memphis-based AutoZone is a Fortune 500 company and describes itself as the leading auto parts retailer in the United States.  With reported annual sales of over $8 billion, it employs more than 65,000 people in 48 states.

The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. 

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.