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Whole Foods Market to Pay $65,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Suit

Employee Fired because of her Disability,  Federal Agency Charged

RALEIGH, N.C. - Whole Foods Market Group, Inc.,  doing business as Whole Foods Market, headquartered in Austin, Texas, will pay  $65,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit  brought by the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.  The EEOC had charged that Whole Foods Market  violated federal law by failing to accommodate and firing an employee because  of her disability.    

According  to the EEOC's lawsuit, Whole Foods hired Diane Butler in 2005 as a cashier for  a facility in Raleigh, N.C. Butler has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic  disease causing uncontrolled growth of cysts in the kidney, eventually leading  to kidney failure. In 2009, while working for Whole Foods, Butler had a kidney  transplant. The EEOC said that in December 2015, Butler missed work on two  occasions because she had been hospitalized and needed to visit the doctor  because of her kidney. The EEOC further alleged that although Butler informed  Whole Foods that she needed time off due to her kidney impairment, the company  nonetheless fired Butler because of her absences.

Such  alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which  protects employees from discrimination based on a disability and requires  employers to provide employees with disabilities with reasonable accommodations  unless it would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District  Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. d/b/a Whole  Foods Market; Civil Action No 5:17-cv-00494-FL) after first attempting to reach  a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In  addition to the $65,000 in damages, the two-year consent decree settling the  suit requires that Whole Foods Market develop a disability accommodation  policy. In addition, the company will provide annual training to its South  Region human resource employees, and to managers and supervisors at its Wade  Avenue store on the requirements of the ADA, including reasonable accommodation.  Whole Foods Market must also post an employee notice concerning the lawsuit and  employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.  

"An  employer who is on notice that an employee's absence is related to her  disability must comply with the ADA's mandate to reasonably accommodate her by  making exceptions to its absenteeism policy if doing so doesn't cause an undue  hardship," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte  District. "Ignoring federal anti-discrimination law only makes things worse for  a company as well as employees."

The  EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting  employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.  Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by  subscribing to our email updates.