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Whole Foods Market Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

September 29, 2017
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Grocery Store Fired Employee for Missing Work Due to Kidney Impairment, Federal Agency Charges

"America's Healthiest Grocery Store," Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. dba Whole Foods Market, headquartered in Austin, Texas, denied a reasonable accommodation to a cashier with polycystic kidney disease and then fired her because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC's suit, Whole Foods hired Diane Butler in 2005 as a cashier for a facility in Raleigh, [North Carolina]. Butler has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease causing uncontrolled growth of cysts in the kidney, eventually leading to kidney failure. In 2009, while working for Whole Foods, Butler had a kidney transplant. In December 2015, Butler missed work on two occasions because she had been hospitalized and needed to visit the doctor because of her kidney. Although Butler informed the company she needed time off due to her kidney impairment, Whole Foods terminated Butler because of her absences.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. d/b/a Whole Foods Market; Civil Action No_5:17-cv-00494-FL) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay for Butler along with compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

"Employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations, including modification of an employer's absenteeism policy, unless making the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the employer," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "An employer who is on notice that an employee's absences are related to that employee's disability must comply with the ADA's mandate to reasonably accommodate workers with such needs."

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.

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