Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities or illnesses. However, these accommodations are not always made, which leads to many, many lawsuits each year.
In some cases, large businesses have the correct policies in place, but they never properly train managers to practice those policies. A perfect example of this is a recent lawsuit in which a fired employee of Dollar General was awarded more than $275,000 in back pay and compensatory damages.
The former Dollar General cashier was an insulin-dependent diabetic who had asked to keep juice near the register where she worked in case her blood glucose level became too low, which is known as a hypoglycemic attack.
Even though Dollar General's company policy would have allowed for this type of accommodation, the woman's supervisor did not allow it. While working one day, the woman started having symptoms of low blood sugar and drank an orange juice that was for sale before paying for it. She then paid for the juice after feeling back to normal.
The cashier eventually admitted that she had consumed the juice before paying for it to the district manager, who fired her for violating the company's policy against "grazing."
After complaining to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Dollar General that the woman joined. A jury ended up awarding her $27,565 for back pay as well as $250,000 in compensatory damages. The juice cost only $1.69, plus tax.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a lawsuit for companies to learn that basic ADA principles must be followed. It isn't enough for a policy to be in place, the policy must actually be practiced.
What people fired because of a disability or illness can do
It's not always easy to know when your rights under the ADA have been violated, but that is what employment law attorneys are for. In many cases, the employment lawyer you speak to will know right away if you may be able to sue for back pay and/or other damages.
Also keep in mind that you may have been discriminated against even if you were not fired. Illegal discrimination or retaliation may also involve:
- not getting hired
- not getting promoted
- pay cuts
- schedule changes or reduced hours
If your gut feeling tells you that you have not been treated fairly because of your disability, illness, gender, race, sexual orientation or age, then it is worth speaking with a lawyer to find out your options. Many attorneys will offer you a free initial consultation, so you have nothing to lose.