EEOC alleges Whole Foods wrongly terminated Raleigh employee

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods. AP

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Friday against Whole Foods, alleging the grocery chain denied accommodations to an employee with polycystic kidney disease and then later fired her because of her disability.

The lawsuit states that Whole Foods terminated Diane Butler from her cashier position at one of its Raleigh stores after she missed work because of her illness, a genetic condition that causes cysts to grow in the kidney and can eventually lead to kidney failure. The lawsuit did not specify which Whole Foods store Butler worked at.

Butler began working at Whole Foods in 2005 and underwent a kidney transplant in 2009, according to the lawsuit. During December 2015, she missed work on two separate days because she had been hospitalized and needed to have follow-up doctor visits. Even though Butler informed Whole Foods that she needed time off because of her kidney problems, the company still fired her because of the absences, according to the EEO lawsuit.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the Texas-based grocery chain violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law mandating that employers give reasonable accommodations to their employees who have disabilities.

“Employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations, including modification of an employer’s absenteeism policy, unless making the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the employer,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, in a press release.

The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief for Butler. After first trying to reach a settlement through its conciliation process, the agency filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division.