Pharmacist with needle phobia wins millions from Rite Aid

January 30, 2015

Should a pharmacist afraid of needles have to administer immunizations as part of his or her job? Or should pharmacies be required to make reasonable accommodations for such an employee?

Should a pharmacist afraid of needles have to administer immunizations as part of his or her job? Or should pharmacies be required to make reasonable accommodations for such an employee?

A New York State jury recently sided with pharmacist Christopher Stevens and ordered Rite Aid to pay him $2.6 million for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing him because of his fear of giving shots and not providing a reasonable accommodation. Rite Aid has not commented on the case.

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Stevens worked for Rite Aid (and before that the pharmacy Rite Aid purchased) since 1977. In 2011, he was informed that all of the chain’s pharmacists had to have immunization training so they could administer flu shots.

According to the legal newsfeed service Lexology, Stevens sent a letter to his bosses that partially read: “I have a disability that will prevent me from becoming an immunizing pharmacist. Because of this condition I would never even consider trying to become an immunizing pharmacist. I believe that the ADA would direct the company to provide an accommodation.”  

Rite Aid decided that Stevens’ condition was not a disability under the ADA and that performing immunizations was a vital part of his job. He was fired in 2011. A district judge disagreed, denied Rite Aid’s motion for a summary judgment, and instructed the parties to try the case before a jury.

 

“Although there was a dispute about the extent of any discussion that took place about the requested accommodation, it was undisputed that in the end Stevens was told that he must undergo the immunization certification training or his employment would be terminated,” attorney Clifford Geiger wrote in his blog. “When Stevens repeated that his disability prevented him from attending the training, his employment was terminated the next day.”

Geiger further wrote: “As the pharmacy manager, Stevens was responsible for building the pharmacy business, including through immunizations and this was included in his job description. So while the job description, at a minimum, implied that administering injections and performing immunizations were among the pharmacy manager’s essential job functions, apparently these duties were not specifically identified as among those the pharmacy manager had to perform personally.”

What message should pharmacy owners take from this decision? “In general, an employer is better off not worrying about whether a particular condition is technically a disability but working with the employee to determine if there is something that might allow them to get the job done,” attorney Stephen W. Lyman wrote on Lexology.

See also:

Pharmacist sues Walgreens over uniform and training pay

Pharmacist gets $500,000 in Rite Aid whistleblower case