Retailer Fired Employee Because of Epilepsy, Federal Agency Said
BALTIMORE - Rite Aid, one of the nation's largest drug store chains, will pay $250,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability and retaliation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC charged that Rite Aid Corporation terminated Christopher Fultz from his position as a pharmacy order picker at Rite Aid's Mid-Atlantic Customer Service Center in Perryman, Md., because of his disability, epilepsy, and because he had previously filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC alleging that he had been denied promotions because of his disability. The EEOC said that after it issued an administrative finding in Fultz's favor, Rite Aid retaliated against him and forced Fultz, under threat of termination, to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination with an occupational health doctor who had no experience treating individuals with epilepsy. The EEOC said Rite Aid improperly used the opinion of this doctor to remove Fultz from his employment and ignored numerous medical releases from Fultz's neurologist, an epilepsy specialist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
The EEOC also charged that Rite Aid failed to consider whether reasonable accommodations could have eliminated or reduced any alleged safety concerns related to Fultz's epilepsy. When Rite Aid removed Fultz from his employment, he had worked at the Perryman facility for 10 years without serious injury to himself, or any injury to coworkers caused by his seizures.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to undertake a rigorous assessment of whether a disabled employee poses a safety threat in the workplace. The EEOC's regulations state that an employer's direct threat assessment must be "based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence." The ADA also prohibits employers from firing or otherwise taking adverse actions because an employee filed a discrimination charge.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division, Civil Action No. 08-CV-02576-CCB, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. After the discovery process ended, the court determined that the case should proceed to trial.
In addition to the $250,000 in monetary relief to Fultz, the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins Rite Aid from further violating the ADA, including by failing to provide reasonable accommodations; discharging qualified individuals with disabilities because of their protected status; or requiring employees to undergo medical examinations that are not job-related or consistent with business necessity. Rite Aid is also enjoined from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination. It must revise its ADA policies and provide ADA training for managers at the Perryman facility and all persons responsible for the reasonable accommodation process. The retailer will post a notice regarding the resolution of the lawsuit and report to the EEOC on its compliance with the consent decree.
"Rite Aid plainly violated the federal law which requires employers to make individualized assessments about a person's ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases about people with disabilities," said District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office, which has jurisdiction over Maryland.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "The policy revisions and training requirements in this settlement will ensure that now all applicants and employees with disabilities will have the same chance to earn a living as those without disabilities."
According to its website, http://www.riteaid.com/company, Rite Aid Corporation is one of the nation's leading drugstore chains with approximately 4,700 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia, and 91,000 associates.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.