Walgreens sued for firing diabetic employee who ate chips to stave off low

Spotted this in my Facebook news feed:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/09/12/walgreens-sued-for-fi...

Josefina Hernandez of San Francisco had a clean record in nearly 18 years of service to the drugstore giant. Her supervisors knew she had diabetes, a disease that calls for careful monitoring and regulation of blood sugar levels.

“I almost always carry a piece of candy in my pocket for situations when I feel my blood sugar getting low, but I didn’t have anything on me this time,” Hernandez said in a statement on the EEOC website. “I knew I needed to do something quickly, so I reached for a bag of chips and paid for them as soon as I could. I worked for Walgreens with no problems almost two decades, so I am very upset to lose my job over this.”

The lawsuit claims Walgreens violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.

“Ms. Hernandez took action to raise her blood sugar in what could have turned into an emergency situation,” EEOC regional attorney William R. Tamayo said in a statement. “Accommodating disability does not have to be expensive, but it may require an employer to be flexible and open-minded. One wonders whether a long-term, experienced employee is worth less than a bag of chips to Walgreens.”

I find it incredible that a pharmacy should be so small-minded. And yet... at the same time, I'm sadly not surprised.

Tags: Walgreens, diabetes, lawsuit

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I guess it comes down to what you consider reasonable accomodation. I consider it reasonable that if someone is having a low they grab food and treat it and figuring out the paying for it when they are of sound mind and body vs. potentially waiting long enough to follow proper "procedure" and ending up in a coma.

If you shoot someone and it is in defense of yourself, generally you are ok as far as the law because you were defending your life. I would hate to think we have laws in place to help someone who has killed another in self defense (as they should be able to) and a person is not able to grab a pack of potato chips without paying first and risk potential firing/prosecution or other negative outcome. After all you are doing it in defense of your life right?
Grabbing a juice and bringing it to the checkout counter to pay for later is something that I see parents do all the time at my local Whole Foods. No one thinks twice about it. The parents pay for what their child is eating and the store makes a sale. It's a question of intent.

Maurie
However similar the situation is, it's a bit different. While Walgreens is kind of accusing her of stealing, she's likely got "inventory control" in her job description and likely would have to at least sign off on something suggesting that she had to run her own purchases by another employee, rather than doing it herself. "California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see but believe it or not, you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got the do-re-mi"

Walgreens didn't maintain they fired her for eating the chips but for not complying with a corporate policy. It seems reasonable to us but pick 12 non-diabetes people @ the mall and run the scenario by them and ask them how much money they think she ought to be awarded and see what the average answer is. Probably 10% of the people would be more interested in finding out where the Walgreens is, if they are hiring a replacement? I can see that with explanation and coaching and (jury) instructions, maybe they'd award her something but I think that Walgreens would have taken care of her if there were some kind of smoking gun emails or statements about how they wanted to get rid of the diabetes employee or the old person or the women or the Hispanic diabetes employee or whatever.

The only thing that makes me think perhaps there's more to this is that she got a lawyer to take her case and usually a lawyer is less likely to get involved in a case if there's no chance of winning.
The woman's name is JOSEFINA HERNANDEZ. So to some people she MUST be a dishonest person just because she's latino, hispanic, or the infashion denomination. Racism is the same if you have diabetes or not and has existed throughout human history.
You bring up a valid point. An immigrant without the full use of the language to defend herself represents a vulnerable target in the workplace. This vulnerability could have played into the thinking of management when they first considered how they should proceed. If they thought that this person would put up a vigorous fight they may have given her the benefit of doubt and not fired her.

Racism is a strong word. Being a white man has shielded me from its ugly face. I think its easy for people like me to be blind to its reality.
I am trying to lay out some of the other side's arguments as I am guessing they will lay them out in a trial? I work on the defense side of injury claims for an insurance company so I'm not entirely a stranger to that side of cases. One of my friends worked these sort of cases and left, explaining that even when he'd prepare a great case, the cases didn't have a lot of value (he works for the SEC and finds that *much* more satisfying).

If the policy was on the books, I have to presume that a large company would have had the "rule" scrutinized by either their legal department or by an attorney they'd pay someone to review their policy and affirm whether the policy will stand up as legal. The fact that the story claims the policy was in place suggests to me that it probably is a legally reasonable policy. So, if the policy is in place, I will presume it must be reasonably reasonable. I can't be out for a bike ride and run low and wander into a Walgreens or any other store and help myself to a drink and say "I'll pay you later". This is the same thing. If Walgreens can define eating stuff as theft, then the employee appears to have done that. It's an unfortunate policy but it seems as if they are on reasonable ground with that.

I am outside of my experience knowing how much "free theft" a long-term employee is entitled to. It's fairly obvious that someone like the Enron people or other "Wall Street" types can get away with a lot but this sort of case involves what amounts to theft and the defense will try to portray her as a theif and cultivate sympathy by arguing "hey, at least we didn't press charges". I've had diabetes for 27 years and have not had to steal anything but I've found myself in many odd situations and have managed to always have money or sugar (usually both, and some backup too...I had to get an oil change in MrsAcidRock's car yesterday and ran a bit low and *blam*, there in the glovebox was a jug of glucose tablets...).

I would say it's an interesting question as to whether or not Walgreens will be found to have an obligation to provide free snacks to their employees. My gut feeling is that the plaintiff will be unable to prove that they were in which case her firing would be justified, however sympathetic she will be. Walgreens will have to decide with their defense attorney what sort of case they have and whether they want to offer to settle it or take the case to trial. I would be pleased if she is afforded legal protection.to eat potato chips but I am not thinking that the court is going to be entirely on her side.
I am also surprised at the hard line taken here by many. Every low is different and every person is different. I knew a woman that had severe lows and once came to her senses sitting on the floor of a grocery store, surrounded by stuff that she had grabbed and opened and consumed in order to treat the low. Since she ran herself higher all of the time, it may not have even been a severe low if she had tested.
The woman in this case may have done all of the correct things if she had not had a fuzzy brain, but her brain went into survival mode. Having witnessed many severe lows with my son, I know that he should never be held responsible for things he did when he was in that condition. He was simply not himself. Would there be any other time that he would actually bite his father while we were trying to get a glucagon shot into him? Of course not. Would he ever run around the house like a maniac, throwing himself on the floor and then getting up again to continue, until he finally passed out? I'm sure this lady was not in that bad a state, but having a brain that is not functioning correctly can make you do things that you normally would never do.
I agree with Mary. We are all conjecturing here on what happened and why it happened, but she may have hesitated to ask for her supervisor's help for fear of reprisal. How sad that she ended up being fired. Did she make a habit of eating without paying first, or was this an unusual occurrence for her? I know that when I am low, I try my hardest to maintain a semblance of being "normal", even though I know I am not. Although I rarely remember what happened when I am in a severe low, like Mary I have seen my son in many lows and know firsthand what he has gone through. We don't know how low her blood sugar was, but she may have panicked and grabbed the chips and eaten them, trying to gain control and get back to normal, hoping no-one would notice, and then paid for the chips when she was back to normal. I know that's what I would have done under the circumstances. How sad that a pharmacy of all places wouldn't take her hypoglycemia into account before firing her!
Sue, I really felt like my son acted very much like an animal when he was low. He never remembered any of it. Once I watched as he insisted on getting dressed and I had to hide his insulin. He put on several shirts, one on top of the other and that was long before layering was the thing to do. When he finally came out of the low, I watched his reaction when he felt the weight of all of those shirts. Those were some scary days when he insisted his reflexes were fine and then almost fell down a flight of stairs. Thank goodness for the newer insulins and the CGM.
I know what you are saying Mary. When Steve was six he went hypo overnight, my husband tried to open his mouth and Steve bit his dad's fingers hard. We ended up taking him to the hospital and he spent the night in a coma, it was awful. He's 40 now, but I have a lifetime of memories of his bad hypo's. And I thank God every day for our pumps and CGM's and the Apidra. I am amazed when I look at my old logs before the pump and see all the 300's and 40's readings, every day!
I have to agree with Mary and Sue here. It is really suprising to me that on this site of all sites, knowing that all the details of the case are unknown, we would not see more people at least giving the employee the benefit of the doubt.

I sure hope that when something like this happens to me I can find some compassionate people to support my cause. To me, the only way I could fault the employee is if she had a long track record of doing this type of thing when she was low and the company had already provided her every "reasonable" accomodation for this type of event.

I wonder how many people out there DO NOT ask for help in these situations simply because they are afraid the reaction from someone without DM may be less than favorable if on a site for PWD a large majority is faulting the employee- Again without all the details. She very well could have been playing the poor me card or finding an excuse to justify the behavior for which she was fired and if she is I hope that comes out in trial and she is humiliated by the experience, but without more details no one can say for sure what happened.
Amen Moss Dog!

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