Drugstore giant Walgreens has agreed to pay $180,000 to a longtime employee with diabetes and to implement revised policies and training to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced yesterday.
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that former cashier Josefina Hernandez, who has Type II Diabetes, was fired by a South San Francisco Walgreens because of her disability after she ate a $1.39 bag of chips during a hypoglycemic attack in order to stabilize her blood sugar level.
Hernandez had worked for Walgreen for almost 18 years with no disciplinary record, and Walgreens knew of her diabetes. Yet the company security officer testified that he did not understand nor did he seek clarification when Hernandez wrote, "My sugar low. Not have time," in reply to his request for an explanation of why she took the chips before paying.
Terminating a qualified employee because of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship for the employer. After an investigation by EEOC investigator Carlos Rocha, and after attempting to resolve the case through pre-litigation conciliation efforts, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Walgreen Company, Case No. CV 11-04470) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
On Apr. 14, U.S. District Judge William Orrick noted that "Walgreen has failed to allege any misconduct that is unrelated to her disability," and denied Walgreens' motion for summary judgment. At this hearing, Walgreens' own legal counsel acknowledged Hernandez as a long-term valued employee with a very good track record, and described her termination as a "harsh result" perceived by the EEOC as unfair.