UPDATE: Dec. 22, 2020: A federal court upheld the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiff but reduced damages to $300,000. He also will receive more than $122,00 in back pay, front pay, interest and tax consequences.
- A jury awarded a Walmart cart pusher $5.2 million after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued his employer for disability discrimination, the agency announced.
- The employee — who has a developmental disability and a visual impairment in addition to being deaf — worked for a Beloit, Wisconsin, Walmart for 16 years before a new manager took over the store. Upon his arrival, the manager suspended the worker and requested the employee resubmit his medical paperwork to keep his reasonable accommodation, which was to work alongside a public-funded job coach. Despite meeting the manager's request, the store stopped communicating with the worker and "effectively terminated him," EEOC said.
- A spokesman for Walmart told the Beloit Daily News it believes the jury award was unlawfully excessive and stated the company tried to work with the employee for several years, but the new manager worried for his safety. The spokesman said the company will weigh its post-trial options.
This is not the first time EEOC has alleged Walmart's failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In August, the store paid $100,000 to settle EEOC's claims it refused to provide accommodations to two deaf employees working at one of its Washington, D.C., locations. Just last week, the agency announced it sued the store, alleging it refused to allow an applicant with a disability to take a physical assessment.
EEOC has more than Walmart in its crosshair, however. It sued American Security Insurance Company in August, for example, alleging in its lawsuit that a manager "constantly chastised" an employee who needed to work from home to accommodate her Type II diabetes. The manager, EEOC said, "criticized her performance without bias" and fired her.
To avoid EEOC's charges, it's critically important for HR professionals and managers to understand their obligations under the ADA. For instance, managers may throw off the interactive process — the method by which workers and managers determine what accommodation a worker with a disability needs in order to do his or her work — and violate the ADA simply by sharing or requesting too much information or inadequately documenting interaction.