Court Rules Chipotle Did Not Discriminate by Firing Employee With Bipolar Disorder
A court in Florida has sided with Chipotle after it fired a woman for side effects caused by a prescription medication she was taking for panic attacks and bipolar disorder.
Lisa Caporicci was terminated from the restaurant where she worked in Tampa on June 6, 2013, for showing up to work in a state her former manager described as “inebriated.” Two months before she was fired, Caporicci told her manager she had a history of bipolar disorder, depression and panic attacks, and that she was taking prescription medications to manage her bipolar disorder.
On the day she was fired and two months after her initial conversation with her manager, Caporicci had a bad reaction to Saphris — a new medication she was prescribed for her bipolar disorder. About 30 minutes into her shift, Caporicci felt disoriented and dizzy. According to court documents, she “was very slow, messed up orders and was incoherent.” Caporicci explained what was going on to her manager, who told her it was fine and to go home and rest.
When she got home, she received a call from her manager telling her “I’m really sorry, but you just looked like you were on some [expletive], so you’re fired and you are not rehirable at Chipotle.”
Before her termination, Caporicci had never received any warnings, documentation or write-ups regarding any absences, court records state. The month before she was fired, she was being “watched carefully for a promotion,” the stress of which added to her panic attacks.
Caporicci sued Chipotle for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as violating the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA allows employees of covered companies to take a leave of absence of specific medical and family-related reasons. Any leave of absence is unpaid; however, the job is protected and employees continue to receive health insurance.
About a week before she was fired, Caporicci submitted paperwork to take a short medical leave of absence for that week, May 30 to June 3. According to Caporicci’s testimony, her manager laughed at the request and threw out the forms her nurse practitioner faxed over. Despite this, Caporicci was still granted the days off.
At the time she was fired, Caporicci had only been at Chipotle for 11 months. To be eligible for protection under the FMLA, she needed to be working there for a full year. Because she was fired before her anniversary, the court ruled her case was not protected by the FMLA.
As for the discrimination charge, the court found Chipotle was not discriminating, based on language in the company’s “Drug and Alcohol Policy.” The policy states:
No employee shall report to work or be at work under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances, or with any detectable amount of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances in his or her system.
Employees who must use medically prescribed or over-the-counter drugs that may adversely affect their ability to perform work in a safe manner must notify their Manager prior to starting work. The Manager will decide if the employee can remain at work and/or if work restrictions are necessary. The employee may be required to take a medical leave of absence or disability leave for the duration of the medication.
Because Caporicci did not disclose that the medications she was taking could negatively affect her ability to perform her job, the court found she violated company policy and that Chipotle was not discriminating against her disability.
Caporicci’s attorney declined to comment. A Chipotle spokesperson reaffirmed that “the judge in this case granted Chipotle’s motion for summary judgment and the case has been dismissed.”