Two years ago, a store manager at a Rite Aid located in Los Angeles was informed by her doctor that she had developed a “serious disability.” Fortunately, the woman’s condition did not prevent her from being able to perform her work duties. But five months after telling her employer about her condition, the woman was fired. After reviewing the woman’s disability discrimination case, a Los Angeles jury awarded the store manager $3.5 million in damages for wrongful termination, discrimination and retaliation.

There are many jobs in California that require workers to have the capability to perform certain physical tasks. But when a worker becomes disabled, employers cannot fire the worker simply because he or she has a new disability. Employers must first try to work with disabled employees to figure out whether there are other tasks or other methods in which a worker can continue to do his or her job, even with a physical or mental impairment.

California employers also cannot retaliate against employees or harass employees who are disabled. After the Rite Aid store manager informed her employer about her disability, she said that she began to experience discrimination in the workplace. According to her lawsuit, other workers began to treat her differently. When the disabled worker filed a discrimination and harassment complaint with her employer, Rite Aid failed to address the complaint and instead retaliated against the worker. She was fired within five months of becoming disabled.

The former store manager’s lawsuit argued that not only did Rite Aid fail to protect the worker from discrimination in the workplace, Rite Aid also failed to address how it could accommodate the woman’s needs in the workplace after becoming impaired. Last week, a jury concluded that Rite Aid had severely violated the disabled worker’s rights.

Some disabled workers might assume that their employer has a right to fire them over a disability, but a company’s failure to work with an employee who becomes impaired over the course of his or her employment is illegal. If you recently became disabled and have lost your job, you may want to consider working with an attorney to learn more about your rights and whether your employer violated your rights in the workplace.

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