Jury in EEOC Suit Says Dollar General Must Pay Former Employee Over $277,565 For Disability Discrimination
A federal jury has found in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a federal disability discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant Dollar General, the federal agency recently announced. EEOC had charged Dollar General with firing a cashier at its Maryville, Tenn., store because of her need to treat her diabetes.
According to EEOC's suit, the cashier, an insulin-dependent diabetic, told her supervisor she was a diabetic and requested on several occasions that her supervisor allow her to keep juice near the register to prevent a hypoglycemic attack. At trial, the cashier testified that her supervisor told her that Dollar General did not allow employees to keep food or drink near the register. Although Dollar General had an accommodation policy that could have allowed the cashier to keep juice near the register, the employees, including management at the Maryville store, did not know about the policy.
While alone in the store one day, the cashier drank orange juice prior to purchase, in violation of Dollar General's "grazing" policy, in response to symptoms of a hypoglycemic attack and to protect the store. As soon as the medical emergency passed, the cashier paid for the bottle of orange juice that cost $1.69 plus tax. Later, the district manager and loss prevention manager appeared in the store to address inventory shrinkage and fired the cashier after she admitted to drinking orange juice prior to purchase. The store fired the employee even though it knew she drank the orange juice because of her diabetes and that she had requested to keep juice near the register.
EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No.3:14-CV-441) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee) against Dolgencorp, LLC, dba Dollar General Corporation, on Sept. 23, 2014, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The discrimination victim joined the suit as a plaintiff in her own personal lawsuit on Dec. 18, 2014.
The jury returned a verdict on Friday afternoon for EEOC and the victim, awarding the former cashier $27,565 in back pay and $250,000 in compensatory damages.
"We are very pleased with the jury verdict," said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. "It is disappointing, however, that we continue to see cases where employers fail to train their employees on basic requirements under the ADA. 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 added, "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 is the nation's largest small-box discount retailer. It is a convenience store offering major brands with many of its products costing a dollar or less. The company operates over 11,000 stores nationwide, and the corporate headquarters are in Goodlettsville, Tenn.
The Memphis District Office of EEOC oversees Tennessee, Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi. EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on the website at www.eeoc.gov.