Last week, a federal judge held that a jury could reasonably find that Hannaford fired one of the Maine Employee Rights Group’s (MERG) clients because of his age, disabilities, and need for medical leave. MERG’s client worked for Hannaford for over thirty years and served as the Produce Manager at the Waldoboro Hannaford store when Hannaford fired him. At the time of his termination, he was 58 years old; suffered from heart disease, knee and back impairments, and a shoulder injury; and had repeatedly needed medical leaves due to his medical conditions. Hannaford fired MERG’s client on the day he returned from a medical leave.
Before MERG’s client went out on medical leave, the Waldoboro store was planning to undergo a major remodel and expansion which would increase both the sales volume of the store and the stress on the store’s employees. The store manager asked MERG’s client whether he could “handle” the stress associated with the expansion but there was evidence that he did not ask other managers in the store—who were younger and not disabled—this same question.
While MERG’s client was out on medical leave, Hannaford claims it received information indicating that MERG’s client was not complying with food safety policies relating to the preparation of cut fruit. Hannaford launched a food safety investigation and the store manager and an associate relations manager met with MERG’s client in connection with that investigation on the day he returned from medical leave. During this meeting, the store manager claims MERG’s client admitted that he knowingly violated food safety policy and that is why Hannaford claims it fired him. MERG’s client denies that he admitted to violating policy and says that no one even asked him if he thought he was violating food safety policy.