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Dollar General Worker With Mental Health Issues Gets Bias Trial

Oct. 3, 2019, 5:15 PM

A jury must decide if a lead sales associate at a Dollar General store in Missouri was illegally denied leave as an accommodation for her anxiety, depression, and migraine headaches, the Eighth Circuit ruled Oct. 3.

Dolgencorp LLC, which does business as Dollar General, may have been able to accommodate Rochelle Garrison’s mental health conditions in some other way, the court said. Garrison instead was forced to quit in order to “get better” after supervisor Sandra Bell told her leave wasn’t available and that she had to do her job and not be sick all the time, according to Garrison’s lawsuit.

Garrison says she had to repeatedly text Bell, who ran the Concordia, Mo., store, before Bell responded. Those messages and an in-person meeting between Bell and Garrison had made clear that Garrison wanted a leave of absence for mental health treatment, the court said.

Bell had also learned, through prior interactions, of Garrison’s various and worsening conditions and her regular doctor visits, Judge David R. Stras said.

A trial may show all of those communications put Dollar General on notice that Garrison was invoking her rights under federal and state disability discrimination laws even though she never used the “magic words” disability or accommodation, Stras said.

The decision reaffirms the circuit’s view that the need for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act can sometimes be inferred from the circumstances.

Bell—and thus Dollar General—responded to Garrison’s apparent ADA request by telling her no leave was available because she was one of four “key holders” who had to be available to open and close the store and she wasn’t eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act protection. She should consult her employee handbook, Bell allegedly said.

A jury could find that Bell failed to fulfill the company’s obligation to engage in an interactive process to try to identify a potential job accommodation, Stras said.

Summary judgment against Garrison was proper on her other allegations under the ADA, FMLA, and Missouri Human Rights Act, the court said, affirming a lower court on those claims.

Judges Lavenski R. Smith and Duane Benton joined the opinion.

Bonuchi Law and Reavey Law Offices represent Garrison. Ford & Harrison and Husch & Blackwell represent Dollar General and Bell.

The case is Garrison v. Dolgencorp, LLC, 8th Cir., No. 18-01066, 10/3/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com