Target wrongfully fires disabled employee for being late to lunch

The Target Corp. of Target retail stores has just paid $275,000 to settle a wrongful termination case out of court. Margarita Arriaga worked at a Target store in Woodland, CA for more than 16 years when she was fired for being late going on her lunch breaks.

The wrongful termination lawsuit was to go to Sacramento federal court last week. Arriaga, who is now 40-years-old, worked as a cashier, shelf stocker, and saleswoman. Court papers say that she was “well-liked by her managers and peers, and she received generally satisfactory performance evaluations.”

Target claims she was fired because she was late taking her meal break on three different occasions in an 18 month period, which is “an automatic ground for termination of any Target employee.” One of those times, Arriaga was only two minutes late.

Arriaga has a diagnosed disability that makes it difficult for her to keep track of time and often times was reminded to take her breaks by other employees. Target, however, knew of her disability, and wrongfully terminated her in June 2009 without any verbal or written warnings.

Target denies that they knew of her disability. “Target did not discriminate based on disability, did not fail to reasonably accommodate, and did not fail to engage in the interactive (accommodation) process, because Target did not know about plaintiff’s alleged disability.”

Arriaga claims that it was well known at her Target store that she often lost track of time because of her disability. She even obtained her job in the first place through a non-profit community organization that helps mentally disabled people get jobs. That same organization sporadically had “job coaches” come to the store to help her deal with any difficulties she might have had at work.

In addition to her wrongful termination, the suit alleged that “Target, without any factual basis to justify its actions, opposed in writings delivered to the Employment Development Department Arriaga’s application for unemployment benefits, and falsely accused Arriaga of conduct which Target alleged was the equivalent of a voluntary resignation.”

The EDD “conducted its own investigation … and determined that Target’s opposition … was without merit and that Arriaga was in fact entitled under law to the benefits.”

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said “We take numerous steps to accommodate team members and guests with disabilities and we are confident in our policies and procedures. The terms of the agreement are confidential, therefore we cannot discuss it further.”