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U.S. sues Walmart for firing deli worker with Crohn's disease

FILE PHOTO: Walmart store in Encinitas, California

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Walmart Inc has been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which on Tuesday accused the largest U.S. retailer of illegally firing a North Carolina deli worker with Crohn's disease.

The EEOC said Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by dismissing Adrian Tucker in April 2017 because her nine "unauthorized" absences in the prior six months, including a hospitalization and a visit to the emergency room, violated its "attendance and punctuality policy."

According to a complaint filed in the Charlotte, North Carolina federal court, Walmart did not excuse several absences though Tucker provided doctor's notes, and rejected her requests for periodic leave or a transfer to a job nearer the bathroom.

Crohn's disease is an chronic bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, and can lead to diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss.

Before being fired, Tucker worked for three years at a Walmart in Statesville, North Carolina, where she served customers, prepared food, cleaned, washed dishes, and lifted boxes of chicken that weighed up to 50 pounds (23 kg).

Tucker was a long-term employee who needed "flexibility" from Walmart because of her debilitating health condition, EEOC lawyer Melinda Dugas said in a statement. "The Americans with Disabilities Act was created to protect employees like [her]."

Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said it was reviewing the complaint.

"We have been a top employer for those with disabilities for years and have thousands of associates who perform their jobs with reasonable accommodation," it said. "We don't tolerate discrimination of any kind and take allegations like this seriously."

The lawsuit seeks back pay and punitive damages for Tucker, and an end to similar future discrimination.

The case is EEOC v Wal-Mart Stores East LP, U.S. District Court, Western District of North Carolina, No. 23-00181.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)