MARYVILLE, Tenn. — Two bottles of orange juice each worth just $1.69 could wind up costing retail giant Dollar General more than $250,000.
But had the store followed its own policy, it might have lived up to its slogan — and saved both time and money.
Twice — once in 2011 and again a year later — former cashier Linda Atkins helped herself to a bottle of orange juice from a Maryville, Tennessee, store’s cooler. Each time, she later paid for the juice. But she still got fired for consuming company products before paying — an infraction the company calls “grazing.” Atkins is diabetic and took the juice to stave off diabetic shock, a federal jury heard.
She had previously asked if she could keep her personal orange juice at the register. A supervisor refused her request, citing company policy banning food or drink at the register. No mention was made to her that, under Dollar General policy, a medical exception could be made, the court was told.
In 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission filed a lawsuit on Atkins’s behalf. She later joined as a plaintiff. After a federal jury sided with Atkins, the court awarded her $27,565 in back pay and $250,000 in compensatory damages.
Dollar General had argued that Atkins already had special accommodations available that she chose not to use. The company said she could have kept an orange juice in suitable places: Her apron, the break room, the store’s cooler and the register, but out of camera sight — so she wouldn’t be seen breaking company rules. Dan MacDonald, Dollar General’s director of corporate communications, told CNN in a written statement that the company was disappointed in the ruling.
“Dollar General is committed to providing its employees with a work environment free from unlawful discrimination,” he wrote. The company “complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and provides reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities when such an accommodation is required.”
Jennifer Morton, Atkins’s attorney, told CNN her client is prepared for an extended battle, whether Dollar General appeals the case or asks for a new trial.
“My client just hopes this case will help educate employees and employers under the American with Disabilities Act,” Morton said.