On September 17, 2008, an employee of Walgreens stopped stocking the store shelves just long enough to open and eat a bag of potato chips without paying for them first. Total cost of potato chips to Walgreens: $1.37. Two months later, Walgreens terminated the employee. Total cost of the settlement Walgreens ultimately paid to the EEOC: $180,000.
Why? Because the employee that Walgreens terminated had Type II diabetes and was eating the potato chips in a frantic attempt to counteract her sudden low blood sugar. Walgreens was aware of the employee’s disability (diabetes), yet in this case it appears that Walgreens failed to reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability that caused the employee to eat the chips.
Walgreens seemingly drastic response to the employee’s action comes from its strict “no grazing” policy, which is intended to prevent employee consumption of food merchandise that the employee has not first purchased (such theft costs Walgreens more than $350,000 annually). The employee alleged that she attempted to buy the chips immediately after her low blood sugar episode, but the cashier wasn’t present, so the employee placed the chips underneath the counter, intending, she stated, to purchase the chips when the cashier returned. Walgreens fired her a few months later.
The employee contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filed a complaint against Walgreens, which the EEOC investigated and then brought a lawsuit against Walgreens alleging that the employee was terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA provides that “no covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (emphasis added). Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ disabilities, and the employer’s failure to make the required reasonable accommodations constitutes discrimination.
The settlement that Walgreens agreed to requires it to pay $180,000 to the EEOC and implement serious changes to its antidiscrimination policy and training procedures.