Petaluma man released from Safeway job after asking for medical accommodation

A man from Petaluma with spina bifida who worked at a local Safeway for more than two years says he felt compelled to resign after seeking accommodation for his condition.

Noah Leader, 24, said his condition caused him to take time off work at least once a week while at Safeway, an issue Leader said his former supervisor widely tolerated. But a change in supervisors – and Leader’s decision to seek formal accommodations in his job last summer – led to what Leader described as pressure to resign.

“I just felt pressured,” Leader said. “I couldn’t think of it right now, so I just quit so I could go to another Safeway if I wanted to.”

Safeway officials say Leader’s characterization of his time at Safeway was inaccurate.

“As in many workplaces, management sometimes advises employees privately on their performance at work, including unexcused absences,” said Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall, adding that the store provides accommodation. to candidates and employees as needed, including the Sonoma Mountain Parkway store. “Safeway is committed to fostering an inclusive workplace and proudly employs people of all abilities in its stores. “

When Leader landed his first stable job – at Safeway in April 2019 – it was a moment of celebration, especially since the store was just steps from his home. Upon joining the company, Leader described the working environment at Safeway as “fantastic”.

Leader, who has lived in Petaluma for six years, was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord fail to form properly. He said that during his 24 years, he had at least 20 surgeries, the last in 2017, after which he had to relearn to walk.

“So I went through a lot of things,” he said.

At Safeway, however, where Leader has held various positions including that of cashier, he said he found support first.

“The manager (who hired me) fully understood everything that was going on, my accommodations and my disability,” Leader said. “So I never had any papers in order because I didn’t even know about it. For a long time, no one said there was an accommodation file to fill out. No one ever told me about it, because everyone in this store understood my disability and understood what I was going through.

The chef said that due to the daily complications of spina bifida, he needed to call the sick person from work, most of the time at least once a week, although he said he was really trying not to. not to do so and that he only called in sick as a last resort. However, he added that his manager had supported him and even let him come to work just for the dinner rush hour.

Then, after his first year of employment, Leader said his current manager had been transferred.

“Then after that the new boss came in,” Leader said. “I explained everything and she was ready to work with me.”

The leader said his new manager then got angry with him for having had to take several time off work due to his condition, although he said he was no more short of time than he was. ‘previously.

At the end of July, Leader said the manager gave him accommodation papers to complete and return. A month later, Leader said his manager called him to the office and gave him the option of resigning that day or giving two weeks’ notice.

“She made it clear that my time and attendance were getting out of hand due to my medical issues,” Leader said.

Reached by phone, a Safeway store manager at Sonoma Mountain Parkway declined to comment on the matter.

California law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability, unless it causes significant hardship or expense for the employer.

Excessive absences, however, are not protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. 7th Court of Appeals ruled in 2001.

“All I wanted was to be there for the customers,” Leader said.

After Leader left the company, his mother posted an article about the situation on the NextDoor social media platform, receiving a wave of responses from members of the community.

“So I get all of this support, which is great if a little overwhelming,” Leader said.

The leader said he had felt sadness, anger and anxiety over the thought of his job being terminated, and that he would particularly regret the bonds he made with his clients and colleagues. However, he said he was looking forward to what might happen to us.

The leader said he has yet to take legal action, but is in talks with a few contacts who have contacted him to do so.

He is also working with the local union on possible next steps. The Argus-Courier has emailed UFCW 8-Golden State for comment, but has not received a response.

Amelia Parreira is a writer for the Argus Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 707-521-5208.

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