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Walgreen Co. has agreed to pay $180,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission disability discrimination lawsuit in which it was charged with firing an 18-year employee with diabetes after she allegedly ate a bag of chips without paying for it to stave off a low blood sugar attack.
Josefina Hernandez developed diabetes about five years after she started working as a cashier at a South San Francisco, California store operated by Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreen, according to court papers.
Walgreen, which knew about her condition, had allowed Ms. Hernandez to possess candy in case of low blood sugar, keep her insulin in the break room refrigerator and take additional breaks to test her blood sugar or eat because of her diabetes, according to court papers.
On Sept., 18, 2008, she suffered a hypoglycemic attack while restocking items and grabbed a $1.39 bag of potato chips from the store to stabilize her condition. She claimed she went to pay for it, but finding no one at the cosmetics counter where she had been instructed to pay for store items, she put the remaining potato chips under the counter at her cash register and returned to restocking items. She was terminated on Oct. 8, 2008, for violating the chain's “anti-grazing” policy.
The EEOC field suit against the chain in September 2011, charging it with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Walgreen filed a motion seeking summary judgment dismissing the case. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco denied the motion in an April 11, 2014, ruling.
Judge William H. Orrick held in that ruling that it was up to a jury to decide whether Ms. Hernandez's disability was the cause of her misconduct, and whether Walgreen should have been required to accommodate her theft as a reasonable accommodation.
Under terms of the settlement approved by Judge Orrick, in addition to paying Ms. Hernandez the $180,000, the company will post a revised policy regarding accommodation of disabled employees on its employee intranet site and provide anti-discrimination training, among other provisions, according to the EEOC.
EEOC San Francisco regional attorney William R. Tamayo said in a statement that not only was Ms. Hernandez's termination “harsh and unfair, but it was illegal, and that's why the EEOC sued to correct this wrong. People may think this case revolves around theft, but the real issue is how a company responded to a valued 18-year employee, whom it knew for 13 years to be diabetic, and who attempted to pay for the chips after she recovered from her hypoglycemic attack.”
A Walgreen spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A disability discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of an 18-year Walgreen Co. worker with diabetes who was terminated after she allegedly ate a bag of chips without paying for it to stave off a low-blood sugar attack, can proceed, says a federal court.