Dollar General Store ended up paying over $275,000 because it wouldn’t allow an employee with diabetes to treat a bout of hypoglycemia with orange juice.
An Americans With Disabilities Act complaint was lodged in 2012 by Linda Atkins, who had been fired by the retail chain. The lead sales associate at the Dollar General Store in Maryville, Tennessee, Atkins was covering her cash register and working alone when she grabbed a bottle of orange juice from a nearby refrigerator and paid the $1.69 price for it between ringing up customers.
Atkins was on insulin therapy at the time and had already experienced one documented bout of hypoglycemia while working at Dollar General. She had been working for the chain since August 2009, four to five months after her Type 2 diagnosis, and she’d made her supervisors aware of her condition upon hiring. Her supervisors had previously given her permission to have beverages and snacks on the premises, but denied her permission to keep juice within reach at her cash register. When it was discovered that Atkins had drank the orange juice while at her post, her employer’s loss control office said she had violated the store’s “anti-grazing” policy. She was fired for this infraction.
She then went before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to accuse Dollar General of failing to reasonably accommodate her condition and for firing her unlawfully. The EEOC agreed and took up the complaint, and alleged that Dollar General had fired her because of conduct “inextricably linked to her disability.” Far from being an isolated incident, the EEOC further alleged that Dollar General had engaged in a pattern of employment practices in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Two months after the EEOC brought its complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Ms. Atkins filed a motion to join the case as an intervening plaintiff. Such a move permitted her to ask for compensation for lost wages and an interruption of earnings.The case proceeded to trial. With witness statements, it was shown that Ms. Atkins had made her needs known to her employer, asked both for permission to keep fruit juice at her register and about the company policy on the matter, and that her employer had flatly refused to accommodate her request. There was also evidence that Ms. Atkins had received favorable reviews, been promoted, and eventually given responsibility for openings and closings along with her general cashier duties. Evidence was also uncovered that the company did allow employees with diabetes to keep juice and sweets handy while on duty; the Maryville store hadn’t followed the company policy or made employees aware of it. On September 16th, 2016, a jury ruled that Dollar General had in fact failed to grant a reasonable accommodation to Atkins and that the company had fired her because of her disability. She was awarded back pay of $27,565.44 and compensatory damages of $250,000.
In a press statement, EEOC District Director Katharine Kores said that Atkins had taken “a life-saving precaution by drinking the orange juice” and that “she should not have been fired for having diabetes or attending to her health concerns – especially in such an emergency situation. Businesses need to use some judgment and restraint when faced with such an episode.”
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