In 2014, America's largest pharmacy retail chain, Walgreens, settled a lawsuit brought by the EEOC over the company's termination of an employee for taking and eating a bag of chips from her store's shelf before paying for them. Walgreens paid the employee $180,000. That's not peanuts, is it? The lawsuit sounds ridiculous, right?
What if I told you the employee was known to be diabetic by the company and that the employee was on the verge of a hypoglycemic attack due to low blood sugar? What if you knew that after being questioned by the company's security officer about why she ate the $1.39 bag of chips without paying for them, the employee wrote "My sugar low. Not have time," but was still terminated. Would that change your analysis? It did for the EEOC and for the US District Court judge.
The ADA forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their disability and further requires employers to accommodate known disabilities where it is reasonable to do so.
In denying Walgreens' motion for summary judgment, the court noted that "Walgreens has failed to allege any misconduct that is unrelated to [the employee's] disability." Rather than provide an accommodation that cost it a mere bag of chips, Walgreens terminated the employee.
Other recent cases with similar facts have popped up around the country. In eastern Tennessee, a jury awarded a former Dollar General employee $277,565 after the retailer fired her for drinking a $1.65 bottle of orange juice prior to paying for it to stave off an imminent hypoglycemic attack.
ADA compliance isn't always this simple. In fact, a lot of well-meaning employers botch it pretty frequently. Hiring skilled employment counsel to draft policies and train management helps employers steer clear of expensive landmines like this one. Smaller employers often can't afford the kinds of settlements and jury awards that result from ADA violations, but they can afford employment attorneys to help them prevent it. For what it's worth, good employment attorneys are all that and a bag of chips, too.