Talk about bad employer decisions when it comes to accommodating employees with a disability. All Linda Atkins wanted was to keep orange juice at her cash register in case she needed it for her diabetes. Her manager refused. So, when Atkins on two occasions felt a diabetic episode coming on she grabbed an OJ from the nearby cooler and drank it. She later disclosed during a store audit that she had done so. Dollar General fired Atkins for violating its “anti-grazing” policy. That policy required employees to first pay for items before using or consuming them. The jury awarded Atkins $27,565 in back pay and $250,000 in compensatory damages. The court awarded Atkins’ lawyers $445,322 in attorney’s fees and $1,677 in expenses.
The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Ohio and three other states) upheld the awards. First, it agreed that Atkins had requested a reasonable accommodation but the company failed to talk it over with her. Employers have a legal obligation to discuss possible accommodations with disabled employees. Second, Dollar General discriminated against Atkins by terminating her because of her disability. The Court likened the situation to one where a teacher with mobility problems asks for assignment to a first-floor classroom, is refused, and is then fired for being late to class after he took too long to climb the stairs between periods. In language helpful to employees, the Court clarified that “failing to provide a protected employee a reasonable accommodation constitutes direct evidence of discrimination.”
Dollar General paid a high price. How much did the orange juice cost? $1.69 a bottle. Plaintiff’s employment lawyers just love stupid employers. They make things easy.
Contact Cleveland, Ohio attorney David W. Neel if you have questions about disability discrimination or any employment law matter. Call 216-522-0011 for a free consultation.