What to Know
- Ex-Whole Foods employee at an NJ facility is suing the company alleging he was fired due to his anxiety after a Black Widow spider bit him
- In his suit, Richard Highsmith, of Hackensack, alleges he experienced anxiety and panic attacks following the 2017 incident
- Highsmith said he requested to be moved to another department but his requests were ignored; He claims he was subsequently fired
A former Whole Foods employee at a New Jersey facility is suing the company for disability discrimination, alleging he was fired due to his anxiety after a Black Widow spider that was living in a produce crate bit him in the arm – a bite that led to his hospitalization.
In his suit, Richard Highsmith, of Hackensack, alleges he experienced “debilitating anxiety and panic attacks” following the Aug. 5 2017 incident.
According to the lawsuit, the venomous spider bite ended up causing “temporary paralysis” to Highsmith’s arm, prompting him to be hospitalized following the incident and remain out of work for a month due to "various hospital stints” and “hand therapy sessions.”
Upon in his return to work at the Paramus facility on Sept. 12, 2017, Highsmith claims he couldn’t bring himself to work at the produce department due to the incident and requested to be moved to another department numerous times in order to accommodate his disability in accordance to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).
According to Highsmith, he never received a response to the requests he made to his manager – one via text and the other via email. However, on Sept. 22, 2017, he received a termination letter, according to the suit, which also alleges he was fired because he stopped coming to work.
“Plaintiff clearly expressed a desire to return to work, seeking reasonable accommodations that would have enabled him to return to work. Whole Foods had available positions that Plaintiff could have performed. Whole Foods simply refused to respond to Plaintiff, and then terminated him, claiming job abandonment,” the lawsuit claims.
Although, Highsmith initially filed the suit in Bergen County Superior Court July 16, the case was moved to federal court Friday.
Highsmith seeks loss of wages, lost employment benefits, compensatory damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
Whole Foods and the lawyer representing the company in the matter did not immediately respond to NBC 4 New York's requests for comment.