Most employers would be happy to deal with an accommodation request that was as simple as keeping a bottle of juice nearby.
But one company refused to bend its rules about eating or drinking on the job, resulting in a costly legal battle and payout.
No juice allowed
Linda Atkins, a type II diabetic, was a cashier at a Tennessee Dollar General. Because of her condition, when Atkins’ blood sugar got too low, she’d have to quickly consume sugar in order to prevent passing out or seizing.
When Atkins asked her manager if she could keep orange juice with her for emergencies, he denied her request due to company policy forbidding food or drink at the registers.
During her time at Dollar General, Atkins had two hypoglycemic episodes. In both instances, since Atkins couldn’t leave her post, she took a bottle of orange juice from the store’s cooler, drank it, then paid for it later.
Atkins was then fired for violating the “grazing” policy, which forbids employees from consuming merchandise before paying for it.
Forced to violate policy
The EEOC filed a suit against Dollar General, claiming the company failed to accommodate Atkins, then fired her for her disability. The 6th Circuit reaffirmed a lower court’s ruling and sided with Atkins.
The court said Atkins never would’ve taken juice from the store if she was permitted to have her own — she never should’ve been fired for violating the grazing policy.
The court went on to say that when the company denied Atkins’ request to keep juice at her register, it didn’t go through the interactive process with her to find another accommodation for her disability.
“The employer had a duty to explore the nature of the employee’s limitations and what types of accommodations could be made, but the store manager categorically denied Atkins’ request, failed to explore any alternatives and never relayed the matter to a superior.”
In this case, a little flexibility with company policies would’ve gone a long way. Now, Dollar General owes Atkins $725,000 — much more than the cost of two bottles of orange juice.