A diabetic San Francisco woman who worked at Walgreen’s was fired after she ate a bag of chips without paying for them. She claims she ate the chips to stop a low blood sugar attack. The woman sued Walgreen’s for disability discrimination, and Walgreen’s has agreed to settle the claims for $180,000.

The incident occurred in 2008 when an 18 year old Walgreen’s cashier suffered a hypoglycemic attack while she was restocking items in a store. She grabbed a $1.39 bag of potato chips from the store’s shelf in order to stabilize her condition. She says that when she went to pay for the chips after she felt better, she found no one at the cosmetics counter where she had been told to pay for store items. She put the rest of the chips under the counter at her cash register and went back to work restocking items. She paid for the chips later that day. However, once the manager found out that she had eaten chips without paying for them, she was fired, in spite of the fact that she had no disciplinary record. The company has an “anti-grazing policy” which requires employees to pay for food before eating it.

According to the lawsuit, the woman developed diabetes about five years after she started working as a cashier at a store in South San Francisco. Walgreen’s was aware of her condition. Walgreen’s allowed the employee to keep candy with her while she worked in case her blood sugar became low. She also kept insulin in the refrigerator in the break room, and also was allowed to take extra breaks to test her blood sugar or to eat because of her diabetes.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Walgreen’s in 2011, charging that it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A judge ruled that a jury should decide whether the woman’s disability was the cause of her misconduct, and whether the company should have been required to accommodate the theft as a reasonable accommodation. Instead of allowing the case to go forward, Walgreen’s decided to settle. Under the terms of the settlement, Walgreen’s agreed to pay the employee $180,000. The company also will post a revised policy on the accommodation of disabled employees on the company’s internal website, and will also provide anti-discrimination training.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are not allowed to treat individuals unfavorably because of a disability or a history of disability. Employers can’t refuse to hire, fire, demote, or take any other negative actions against an employer or potential employer because of a disability. It’s also illegal to discriminate against someone because of their relationship with a disabled person. For example, a business cannot refuse to hire a man whose wife has cancer because it is afraid its insurance costs will go up.

Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship for the employer. In general, an undue hardship is anything that would cause significant difficulty or expense to the employer.

It’s unfortunate that employers don’t take the law regarding employees with disabilities seriously. In this situation, Walgreen’s terminated a valuable employee over a bag of chips that cost $1.39, when the employee was having a blood sugar attack and had no disciplinary history. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that employers should follow the law regarding employees with disabilities, and if they don’t they should be held legally accountable.

If you have been discriminated against at work in the Oakland-San Francisco area because of your disability, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland disability discrimination attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients in their employment law cases in the Oakland-San Francisco area, including Tracy, Fairfield, Hayward, San Jose, and Berkeley.

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