Rite Aid Corp. will pay $250,000 to settle federal claims that the drugstore chain fired a Maryland man because he had epilepsy and had filed an Americans with Disabilities Act claim against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Christopher Fultz, who worked in a pharmaceutical distribution facility from 1998 through 2008, will receive $91,200 under the accord the company reached with the EEOC. Fultz’s private attorneys at Webster, Frederickson, Correia & Puth in Washington, D.C. will receive $158,800.
Rite Aid admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, a consent decree with the EEOC that was filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore and signed by Judge Catherine C. Blake.
EEOC attorney Debra M. Lawrence lauded Rite Aid for having made management changes in advance of the consent decree to ensure violations of the ADA do not recur.
As stated in the decree, these changes include naming a personnel manager dedicated to addressing disability-related matters who reports directly to Rite Aid’s vice president of labor and employee relations and to the legal department’s senior counsel.
“Around the time of these events, things were not good,” said Lawrence, EEOC regional attorney for Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Now, she said, “Rite Aid has mechanisms in place such that a situation like this will not be repeated. They are under a new management that is going to be more mindful of their obligations under the ADA.”
Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid said in a statement that it “settled the case to avoid costs associated with protracted litigation.”
“We remain firmly committed to compliance with the ADA and will reinforce that commitment as outlined in the consent decree,” Rite Aid added. Fultz’s private attorneys, Bruce A. Frederickson and Jeremy P. Monteiro, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
In the lawsuit, Fultz claimed his epileptic seizures never interfered with his ability to do his job of sorting large quantities of pharmaceutical products into smaller containers for shipment. But managers made “offensive, disrespectful and hostile” comments regarding his seizures and imposed needless restrictions on him – such as permitting him to work only on the first floor – which undermined his opportunities for promotion, Fultz alleged.
Managers also required him to have fitness-for-duty examinations that were neither job-related nor justified by a business necessity, he alleged.
The managers’ treatment was not reflected in his performance evaluations, which were uniformly positive, Fultz claimed, adding that he received awards for perfect attendance.
Fultz initially filed an EEOC complaint on Sept. 25, 2006, saying he had been subjected to harassment and work restrictions not imposed on other employees because of his perceived disability.
Six months later, Rite Aid sent Fultz to be examined by a neurologist, who cleared him for work, Fultz claimed. Nevertheless, the company continued to prohibit Fultz from working on the second floor, he added.
Company managers said the restriction was needed to prevent him from falling on a co-worker during a seizure, adding that Fultz was a “liability” and had “to be restrained” during seizures.
During a seizure on Oct. 26, 2007, a company manager told an employee to take a photograph of Fultz, he alleged.
Fultz said he was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 23, 2008, after a company doctor found him “unfit for duty.”
On Feb. 20, 2008, Fultz added a claim of retaliation to his EEOC complaint.
Fultz said he was still on administrative leave on July 5, 2008, when he received a letter from T. Rowe Price, the administrator of Rite Aid’s 401(k) plan, indicating he had been fired and informing him of options regarding his retirement account.
The EEOC sued Rite Aid on Fultz’s behalf on Sept. 30, 2008.
The $91,200 to be paid to Fultz includes $15,000 in back pay and $76,200 in compensatory damages, according to the decree, which will remain in effect for three years.
– Steve Lash
A version of this article was originally published in The Maryland Daily Record, a sister publication of Lawyers USA.