Josefina Hernandez, a 57 year old Walgreens cashier who had worked for the company for nearly 18 years, was fired in 2008 for eating a bag of chips she had not yet paid for. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a disability discrimination suit on her behalf, and Walgreens agreed to pay a $180,000 settlement to Hernandez.
Hernandez is diabetic. At the time of the chip incident she had started shaking and sweating. She grabbed and ate the bag of chips to fend off an attack of low blood sugar, and said she paid for the chips after recovering from the attack. Still, Walgreens fired her for violating a company policy prohibiting eating food products before paying for them.
The EEOC said Walgreens discriminated against Hernandez both by terminating a qualified employee due to a disability and by failing to make a reasonable accommodation.
Disability discrimination occurs when an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act treats an employee or employment applicant with a disability unfavorably because she:
- has a disability, or
- has a history of a disability, or
- is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not short term and minor, or
- has a relationship with a person with a disability.
The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
Walgreens knew of Hernandez’s health condition, and would not have had significant difficulty accommodating her need for a $1.39 bag of chips. Walgreens could not show any other misconduct by Hernandez.
The $180,000 amount was reached to cover Hernandez’s lost wages and emotional distress. In addition to the payment, Walgreens will also revise its policies and provide training to its employees about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.