A jury will hear the ADA claim of a diabetic cashier, fired for drinking life-saving juice from a store refrigerator

healthy-grass-orange-juice-healthI imagine that this juice won’t be worth the squeeze.

A couple years ago, I blogged here about a case in which a national drug store store fired a diabetic cashier for violating its “grazing” policy. That is, she opened a $1.39 bag of chips, without having paid for it first. However, the cashier claimed that she needed the chips as a reasonable accommodation, because apparently she was suffering from an attack of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). A California federal court recognized that, in that situation, the employer may have a duty to accommodate. Then, the case promptly settled.

History repeats itself.

Fast forward two years.

Last week, in EEOC v. Dolgencorp, LLC, a Tennessee federal court ruled here that a jury will hear the Americans with Disabilities Act claims of a diabetic cashier, who twice committed grazing violations by taking bottles of orange juice from the store cooler without immediately paying for them, and for which she was fired.

An untrained supervisor.

Prior to taking the juice, the employee had informed her supervisor about her diabetes. The employer asked her supervisor if she could keep a snack or beverage near the register while she worked to prevent a possible hypoglycemic episode. However, the supervisor informed the cashier that it was against store policy to do so. Unfortunately, the supervisor did not know that she could excuse the cashier from the policy prohibiting food or drink at the register. Plus, the supervisor did not recall receiving training or instruction about defendant’s obligation to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for health conditions. For that reason, she did not tell the cashier to contact anyone else to discuss the accommodation request.

A catch-22.

On those instances in which the cashier violated the grazing policy, she was alone in the store, and could not leave her post to get juice from the break room. Therefore, on those two occasions, the cashier found herself in a catch-22: (1) Violate the grazing policy; or (2) violate the other company policy about leaving the store unsecured. Either way, she was doomed. Indeed, violating the grazing policy led to her termination.

Maybe, next time, better training.

The court’s opinion makes clear that the company had a policy on reasonable accommodations. Indeed, the court concluded that the cashier followed the procedures in place for requesting an accommodation. However, her supervisor was not prepared to address the request.

Don’t make the same mistake. Could this situation have been avoided with better supervisor training? Sure sounds like it.

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  • Heavy Metal Lawyer

    Just read the order. The facts are pretty incredible. The store managers were aware of the requirements to provide a reasonable accommodation, were aware that Atkins needed the accommodation, had for years been aware of Atkins’s condition and allowed her to have her accommodation, overlooked other employees who don’t have the need for an accommodation doing the same type of “grazing” while taking no action against them, and Atkins was straightforward about her “grazing” and why she was doing it. And they still chose to fire her? It doesn’t sound like bad training, it just sounds like utter stupidity.

  • In cases like this, I am reminded of Jon Hyman’s oft stated Golden Rule of Employee Relations: If you treat your employees as you would want to treated (or as you would want your wife, kids, parents, etc. to be treated), most employment cases would never be filed, and most that are filed would end in the employer’s favor.

  • Bob Small

    Dumb decision on the part of the supervisor for not using common sense and by the employer for not training the supervisor. That being said, my mother, a nurse, was an insulin dependent diabetic for 30 years and was subject to similar needs. She was never without a piece of candy in her pocket which is all that was ever needed; so the employee also did not act wisely here.

    • Heavy Metal Lawyer

      But do all diabetics have the exact same needs? I’m not sure it’s fair to assume that what worked for one person would work for another and that therefore that person was not wise.

  • Such stupidity never ceases to amaze me. Small wonder HR and management get such abuse – it’s sometimes deserved!