Dollar General must pay a former Maryville cashier $277,000 after she was fired for drinking a bottle of orange juice to treat her diabetic condition on the job, a federal jury has determined.
An East Tennessee jury found Friday in U.S. District in Knoxville that Dolgencorp LLC discriminated against Linda K. Atkins as defined in the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The panel awarded Atkins $250,000 in compensatory damages and $27,565 in back wages, records show.
It also found that the EEOC and Atkins failed to prove the store chain had acted maliciously or with indifference to her rights.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued in September 2014, and Atkins joined with her own lawsuit in December 2014.
Atkins is an insulin-dependent diabetic who disclosed her condition to Dollar General employees.
Atkins started working for the retail giant in August 2009 as a sales associate. The next year she became a lead sales associate.
One day in fall 2011 she was alone as the manager and also as a relief cashier. The main cashier was on her lunch break.
While at the register, Atkins felt a hypoglycemic attack coming on, according to the Memphis-based area EEOC office.
"To avoid leaving the cash register unattended, and for the security of the stores, Ms. Atkins grabbed a bottle of orange juice from (the store's) cooler and consumed it to stabilize her blood sugar," according to the lawsuit.
She paid for the bottle.
Atkins subsequently asked for permission to keep juice handy near the cash register in case she experienced the onset of another attack.
But, she testified last week, according to the EEOC, that she'd been denied that option, even though company policy allowed it to accommodate workers in need. Management didn't know about the policy, according to the EEOC.
Then, in January 2012, she had another attack. Considering it to be an emergency, Atkins grabbed a bottle from the store's cooler and drank it, according to the EEOC.
Afterward, she paid for the $1.69 juice, according to her lawsuit.
In March 2012, during an annual store audit, Atkins disclosed that she'd drunk the juice in January. She was fired, the lawsuit states, as a result of her actions to stave off a diabetic attack. She had violated the store's "grazing" policy against consuming products before paying for them, according to the EEOC.