A former Rite Aid store manager was awarded $8.8 million on July 16, approximately $5 million of which were punitive damages. The award was based upon disability discrimination and harassment, and retaliation for complaining about the disability discrimination and harassment and also racial harassment. Leggins v. Rite Aid Corp., (Cal. Super. Ct.).
Leggins was a 27-year employee of Rite Aid, serving the last several years as a store manager. After he was injured trying to prevent a robbery, he had several absences due to surgery, recovery and dealing with continuing medical issues arising out of the robbery. According to the jury, rather than receiving accommodation, Leggins was required to perform painful tasks and denied a transfer to a position that would have involved less physical work.
Leggins also alleged that the manager, who was aware of Leggins’s medical limitations, told Leggins that “all black people do is complain” and “you are on black time.” Leggins also alleged that another manager told him the “you are a big, black man; you are intimidating.” Leggins was terminated after receiving write ups about the condition of his store and closing his store early on New Year’s Eve, although two months earlier he had received permission to do so.
The jury found that Leggins had been subjected to disability discrimination, disability harassment, and retaliation for complaining about discrimination and harassment. Leggins’s claims for violations of state and federal leave laws were rejected by the jury. In justifying the $5 million punitive damages award, the jury found that Rite Aid treated Leggins maliciously and oppressively.
Employers can become frustrated with managing an employee who for medical reasons is limited in the scope of duties he or she can perform. Sometimes the frustration can be manifested in decisions about the individual that smack of retaliation. The Rite Aid case involved a 27-year employee who suffered injuries on the job while trying to stop a store robbery. The frustration an employer has with extended limitations for medical reasons is understandable. However, there are several creative ways to address that situation without it resulting in a discrimination or retaliation charge or lawsuit.