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EEOC sues retailer after diabetic worker is fired

Most Pennsylvania workers would expect to be fired if they were caught stealing from their employers, but they may think that they deserve some leniency if they were diabetic and the item involved was a can of soda or a candy bar used to stave off a hypoglycemic attack. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advocates on behalf of workers who have been denied rights guaranteed by federal law, and in 2016 it successfully sued a national retail chain that fired a diabetic cashier after she suffered a hypoglycemic attack while on duty and took a small bottle of juice to restore her blood sugar levels.

The worker was fired even though she told her supervisor about the incident and paid for the $1.69 bottle of juice as soon as she was able to. She also says that management refused to allow her to keep any emergency food or drinks at her register to help manage her blood sugar levels. The EEOC sued the retailer for violating the woman's rights under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and a Tennessee jury eventually awarded her more than $27,000 in back pay and a further $250,000 in compensatory damages.

An investigation revealed that the retailer sued by the EEOC had a policy in place that would have allowed the woman to keep food at her register for use in a medical emergency, but the store managers involved were not aware of it. Experts say that employers hoping to avoid an EEOC lawsuit should combine their compliance policies with regular training for all supervisors.

Employers are sometimes unsure about their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a simple letter from an employment law attorney may sometimes be all that is required to address the unfair treatment of disabled workers. However, attorneys may initiate legal proceedings and advocate vigorously on behalf of workers who have faced discrimination or harassment when polite correspondence has failed to produce meaningful results.

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