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SAN FRANCISCO—The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity is suing Walgreen Co., alleging disability discrimination for firing a worker with diabetes who ate a snack sold at the store because she was suffering from low blood sugar.
The EEOC, which filed the lawsuit Thursday, said Josefina Hernandez, a cashier at a South San Francisco, Calif., store operated by Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen, had worked for the company almost 18 years with no disciplinary record, and the drugstore chain knew of her diabetes.
However, she was fired in 2008 after Walgreen was informed she had eaten a $1.39 bag of chips because her blood sugar was low, even though she paid for the snack when she came off cashier duty.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco federal court, seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages, as well as measures to prevent future discrimination by Walgreen. The EEOC said it filed suit after first trying to reach a voluntary settlement.
Duty to accommodate
“Employers clearly have an affirmative duty to accommodate employees with disabilities.” EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said in a statement. “Ms. Hernandez took action to raise her blood sugar in what could have turned into an emergency situation. Accommodating disability does not have to be expensive, but it may require an employer to be flexible and open-minded. One wonders whether a long-term, experienced employee is worth less than a bag of chips to Walgreens.”
A Walgreen spokesman said in a statement, “At this time, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”