Appeals court affirms judgment in supermarket checker case

Kathy Woods Oct. 19, 2009, 3:31pm

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline)-The California Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court was correct in awarding a supermarket employee $200,000 after she was denied a restroom break and urinated on herself.

The plaintiff, only identified as, A.M. in court documents, sued Albertson's in 2006 for failure to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her disability.

In January 2003, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment affected her salivary glands, which required her to drink water at all times which in return caused her to go to the restroom frequently.

The plaintiff began working for Albertson's in 1987 at its store in Fairfax, Calif. At the time of the incident she was working in the meat/deli section of the store as a checker.

On February 11, 2005, A.M. was working her shift with a new manager, Kelly Sampson, and needed to go to use the restroom. Court papers said when she informed Sampson she was told that she would have to wait.

With a long line of customers at her checkout stand A.M. couldn't hold it any longer and ended up urinating on herself. At the time A.M. was also on her menstrual cycle. A.M. claimed she was shaking and humiliated after the incident.

She became depressed, withdrawn and had bad dreams. She became suicidal, for which she was hospitalized, court papers say. A.M. received a doctor's excuse not to return to work for two months.

A.M. tried to return to work in May 2005, but the store was unable to offer her a schedule that allowed her to attend therapy, which was a condition of her returning to work.

When she was finally able to return to work, Albertson's was unwilling to work with her. The store was uncertain they could accommodate her needs.

At trial, the jury heard Albertson's 5 step procedure for providing reasonable accommodations. The jury decided that the 5 step procedure was not used in this case and awarded the plaintiff $12,000 in past lost wages, $40,000 in future medical, and $148,000 for past emotional distress.

Albertson's appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly denied motion for non-suit. The company claimed that the single incident did not prove that they failed to reasonably accommodate the plaintiff.

Albertson's also argued that the trial court erred by refusing its proposed jury instructions. They also say that A.M. should have just walked away from the check stand and go use the restroom, which was against company policy.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court on the issue of non-suit and said that the jury instructions the defendants wanted read would not have made a difference in this case.

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