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California jury awards millions to disabled manager of Rite Aid store

Learning to cope with a new disability can be challenging and frustrating for any San Diego resident, but one thing disabled workers should not have to worry about is losing their jobs.

California employees might assume that employers have a right to fire any employee who suddenly develops a physical or mental impairment. But even though one's impairment may affect his or her ability to do specific tasks, California employers are still obligated to try to make reasonable accommodations in the workplace for disabled employees. Firing an employee solely because the employee is disabled could be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Last year, a Rite Aid employee was fired within a few months of informing her employer about her disability. After reviewing the disabled worker's case, a California jury concluded that Rite Aid had violated state and federal labor and employment laws. Last week, the woman was awarded more than $3 million in damages.

According to the lawsuit, the Rite Aid store manger had developed a "serious disability" during 2010. The woman's impairment did not affect her ability to do her job, but her employer did violate her rights by failing to address whether it could make any reasonable accommodations for the worker, the lawsuit argued.

After becoming disabled, the woman claims that Ride Aid began to discriminate against her because of her condition. She raised concerns about disability discrimination and harassment in the workplace with her employer, but her complaints were not addressed. Instead, she experienced retaliation in the workplace and was fired within five months of disclosing her condition.

Last week, a jury ruled in favor of the disabled employee. Rite Aid had a legal obligation to address the store manager's complaints of discrimination in the workplace. Rite Aid also had a legal obligation to address whether any specific accommodations could have been made for the employee after she became disabled. Instead, the company failed to follow through with its legal obligations and failed to protect the rights of the employee.

Source: Business Insurance, "Jury returns $3.5M verdict against Rite Aid in disability discrimination case," Judy Greenwald, July 25, 2012