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Playing by the rulebook doesn't yield best result


At one point in the classic, eerily prescient 1946 political novel “All the King's Men” by Robert Penn Warren, cynical governor Willie Stark, who is based on Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, has a conversation with an idealistic doctor.

Willie tells the doctor that things change: “Because what folks claim is right is always just a couple of jumps short of what they need to do business. But folks in general, which is society, Doc, is never going to stop doing business.”

What brings that to mind is what happened to Lisa Caporicci, an employee at a South Tampa, Florida, restaurant operated by Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., who was terminated after one episode of acting inebriated after taking a prescribed anxiety medicine, according to the U.S. District Court in Tampa's May 27 ruling in Lisa Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

Before the events leading up to her termination, Ms. Caporicci had been considered “really good at her job” and was being “watched carefully for a promotion.”

But then Ms. Caporicci took a brief Family Medical Leave Act leave to adjust to her new medication, and was terminated just four days later.

Ms. Caporicci sued Chipotle on grounds including violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights.

The court dismissed the FMLA charge on the basis she was not eligible for FMLA protection because she had worked for just under 11 months, not the minimum 12 months required.

As to the ADA claim, Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell said in her ruling, “Courts are split on the question of whether a termination based on conduct related to, or caused by, a disability constitutes unlawful discrimination.”

However, most courts have held “an employer may discipline or terminate an employee for workplace misconduct even when the misconduct is a result of the disability.”

The judge concluded Ms. Caporicci had violated the company's drug and alcohol policy by coming to work while under the influence of the medication, and therefore the firm had a justifiable, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination. Ms. Caporicci is appealing the ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Chipotle may have been legally justified in its action. Nevertheless, one can't help but be suspicious of her termination's coincidental timing with her taking her FMLA leave.

And in any case Ms. Caporicci was taking medication for a medical condition, not shooting up with illegal drugs. She deserved another chance.

This is one case that called for a bit more compassion and, to quote Willie Stark, a business being willing to take “just a couple more jumps” and doing what is right.