Earlier in the Summer, I blogged here about this federal court opinion, recognizing that a convenience store may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing a diabetic cashier.
The facts showed that the diabetic cashier twice violated the store’s grazing policy by removing bottles of orange juice from the store cooler without immediately paying for them. Except, she may have taken the OJ, because the store otherwise refused to accommodate her disability.
Thus, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and let the jury decide the case.
It didn’t get any better for the employer at trial.
Last week, the jury determined (here) that the employer had both failed to accommodate the employee’s disability and fired her in violation of the ADA. The jury awarded the employee back pay of $27,565.44 and compensatory damages of $250,000! However, the jury did not award punitive damages. Rather, it concluded that the employer acted unlawfully, but not willfully.
Juries and Discrimination Cases.
You’ll hear lawyers say that anything can happen at trial. Therefore, it’s no surprise that most risk-averse employers will settle following an unsuccessful motion for summary judgment. Been there; done that.
However, I’ve also tried cases where appropriate because juries are fairly intelligent when handling employment matters. But, here, I remember reading the judge’s opinion on the employer’s motion for summary judgment and thinking about how badly the company appeared to have handled the situation. And, there’s just something about a diabetic employee whose literal last resort is taking juice from the store cooler.
So, before you make an employment decision, for example, not accommodating a disability or firing an employee with a disability, think about how a jury may react. Doing so could save you $277,565.44.