An employee of Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Yonkers claims he was fired for “theft of time” for taking a 30-minute break while recuperating from a blood clot in his left leg.
Ekow D. Bartels of Yonkers sued Stew Leonard’s, based in Norwalk, Connecticut, last month in White Plains federal court, claiming discrimination on the basis of a disability.
The reason for firing him is “clearly pretextual,” the lawsuit states. “Colleagues who are not disabled habitually sit down at the cafeteria after they clock in and are not accused of stealing company time.”
Stew Leonard’s does not comment on litigation, spokeswoman Meghan Bell said in response to a request for the grocer’s side of the story.
Bartels was hired as a grocery merchandiser at the Ridge Hill store in 2001. For more than 17 years, he claims, no disciplinary action was taken against him.
He worked the overnight shift, from 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., for $19 an hour, or $39,520 a year, plus a $700 annual bonus and health benefits.
On Jan. 3 he felt a pain in his left calf as he checked inventory. By Jan. 5, the ankle was swollen. On Jan. 6 he went to the emergency room at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville.
He was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, according to the complaint. The doctor told him not to put pressure on the leg, prescribed pain medication and blood thinners and advised him to take three days of bed rest.
But Bartels went to work that evening, despite the pain. He continued working for a month, missing one shift, according to the complaint, because he overslept after taking medicine.
Bartels’ disability was obvious, the complaint states, because he limped occasionally and wore a leg brace. He claims that an assistant manager, grocery manager and team leader were well aware of his condition, and one even advised him not to work.
Shortly after clocking in on Feb. 3, his leg felt numb and he was unable to walk, so he sat down in the cafeteria for 30 minutes. Then he went to work.
On Feb. 7, he was summoned by the human resources director and questioned about the 30-minute break. She allegedly told him that he should have called to get the time deducted from his pay, accused him of theft of time and fired him on the spot.
Despite knowing about his diagnosis, Bartels claims, store managers never discussed or offered reasonable accommodations that would have enabled him to work. He accused the store of discrimination and retaliation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights Law.
He is demanding payments for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages for mental, emotional and physical injuries.
Bartels is represented by Brittany A. Stevens of Phillips & Associates of Manhattan.