Employer's Pattern of Accommodating Workers not Relevant

October 19, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A California state appellate court has ruled that a single incident of an employer failing to accommodate a worker's disability ran afoul of the state's anti-discrimination mandate even if the employer had a previous record of accommodation.

According to Business Insurance, the appellate jurists rebuffed an argument by the Albertsons supermarket chain that its handling of the incident involved in the case represented a rare deviation in what the company said was its long history of working with employees needing special accommodations to perform their jobs. The court said California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) doesn’t address an employer’s overall pattern of conduct.

“As is demonstrated by (this case), a single failure to make reasonable accommodation can have tragic consequences for an employee who is not accommodated,” the court ruled.

Court records in A.M. vs. Albertsons L.L.C. show a grocery store checker sued Albertsons in 2006 for a failure to accommodate her disability. She later updated her complaint to allege a violation of FEHA. In 2008, a jury found the retail grocer failed to accommodate and awarded the plaintiff $200,000.

According to the news report, the employee underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The treatment affected her salivary glands, causing her to drink large volumes of water and urinate frequently, court records show.

Among other measures, Albertsons accommodated her over several months by allowing her to keep water at her work station despite a prohibition against it, and managers covered for her when she needed a bathroom break, the Business Insurance account noted.

In 2005, a new supervisor began working at the store that was not familiar with the employee’s special arrangements.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision against the employer.