Drugstore Chain Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit for $180,000

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced this summer that it settled a disability discrimination lawsuit against the drugstore chain Walgreens, which allegedly engaged in wrongful termination based on a health condition. EEOC v. Walgreen Co., No. 3:11-cv-04470, complaint (N.D. Cal., Sep. 8, 2011). The company claimed that the termination was based on “misconduct,” but the court found that misconduct that is directly related to an employee’s disability must be considered in connection to the disability. Shortly after the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the parties entered into a consent decree in which the company agreed to various forms of injunctive relief and $180,000 in damages.

The complainant worked for Walgreens for about 18 years. She was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1995, after about five years at Walgreens. The company knew about her condition and generally allowed her to have candy in case her blood sugar got too low, to keep insulin in the employee break room, and to take additional breaks to eat or test her blood sugar.

While she was restocking shelves on September 17, 2008, the complainant began experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, including sweating and shaking. She did not have any candy on her person at the moment. Fearing a hypoglycemic emergency, she took a bag of chips from the cart of items to be restocked and ate some of them. The bag had a retail price of $1.39. She claims that she began to feel better after about 10 minutes and went to the cosmetics counter to pay for the bag of chips. Finding no one there, she put the bag under the register and returned to her restocking duties.

The assistant store manager found the bag, and after the complainant acknowledged that she had put it there, reported the matter to the store manager. The complainant began a two-week vacation the following day. She met with a loss-control supervisor the day she returned to work and was informed that she was suspended. About a week later, the store manager told her that she was fired for violating the company’s “anti-grazing” policy, which prohibited employees from eating food without paying for it first. The manager reportedly stated that the policy had no “gray area” and that he was obligated to terminate her.

The complainant filed a complaint with the EEOC, which brought suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. In an April 2014 order denying Walgreens’ motion for summary judgment, the judge identified the question presented by the case as whether the ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations for an employee who violated a workplace policy specifically because of a disability. The EEOC cited two Ninth Circuit cases holding that firing an employee for misconduct caused by a disability could violate the ADA. Humphrey v. Mem’l Hosp. Ass’n, 239 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2001); Dark v. Curry County, 451 F.3d 1078 (9th Cir. 2006).

The court found that the evidence supported the EEOC’s claim that the company fired the complainant for misconduct, and that the question of whether her misconduct was inextricably linked to her disability was a question for a jury. The parties filed a consent decree settling the case about two months later. In addition to injunctive relief regarding non-discrimination policies and training, the company agreed to pay $180,000 in emotional distress damages to the complainant.

If you need to speak to an employment attorney in New Jersey or New York regarding discrimination or another employment law matter, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

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Question of Whether EEOC Must Make a Good Faith Effort to Conciliate Will Go to Supreme Court, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 3, 2014
Former Sales Executive Obtains $11.6 Million Verdict in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 12, 2014

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