Dollar General must pay a teenage diabetic girl $277,656 after she was fired for drinking a $1.69 bottle of orange juice before paying for it, MSN is reporting. The teen drank the juice to prevent a hypoglycemic attack.
The teen, whose name is not being released to the media, had been working as a cashier at the Dollar General in Maryville, Tennessee. As an insulin-dependent diabetic, the teen had hoped that her manager would allow her to keep a bottle of juice near her station at the cash register in case she needed it. The manager did not allow it, even though company policy officially does allow this accommodation.
One day in September 2014, the teen was working alone when she felt a hypoglycemic attack coming on. Hypoglycemia is a sudden drop in blood sugar; in diabetics, it can be deadly if untreated. Fortunately, a few ounces of orange juice will save the day. The teen, lacking her own orange juice at her work station, did the next best thing: she grabbed one from the cooler and drank it, intending to pay for it later. Once her symptoms had passed and she was back to normal, she paid for her drink. The total cost of the orange juice: $1.69, plus tax.
Later, says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the store's district manager and loss prevention officer showed up to figure out the discrepancy in inventory. The teen confessed that she had drunk the bottle of orange juice - which, again, cost $1.69, and which, again, she drank because she was having a medical emergency. The teen was fired for violating Dollar General's policy against "grazing" - that is, stealing low-cost items such as snacks and drinks.
The teen took her complaint to the EEOC, which protects employees such as herself and issues guidelines that employers must follow when it comes to employees with medical issues. The EEOC filed suit against Dollar General; meanwhile, the teen also filed her own suit against the retail chain. Eventually, the two lawsuits were merged into one and sent to a jury.
The jury sided with the teenager and awarded her $27,565 in back pay plus another $250,000 in compensatory damages - that's $277, 565 over a $1.69 bottle of orange juice.
EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez praised the jury's decision.
"We are very pleased with the jury verdict. It is disappointing, however, that we continue to see cases where employers fail to train their employees on basic requirements under the ADA (American Disability Act). The Commission will continue to carry out its goal of ensuring equal opportunity in the workplace for persons with disabilities."EEOC Regional Attorney Faye A. Williams also chimed in on the outcome.
"This case highlights another employer who failed to train its employees on the reasonable accommodation requirements under the ADA. Dollar General represents one of the largest variety retailers in the country. Yet it failed to ensure that its employees and management staff knew about its reasonable accommodation policy. It was as if Dollar General had no policy at all. Instead of accepting responsibility for its inaction, Dollar General argued the employee did not need an accommodation. We hope this jury verdict sends a message to its employers, train your employees on the reasonable accommodation requirements under the ADA."Dollar General operates about 11,000 stores across the United States.
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