- A Wisconsin jury has ordered Walmart to pay more than $125 million in damages over disability discrimination claims brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a former employee with Down syndrome (EEOC v. Walmart Stores East LP, 1:17-cv-00070-WCG (E.D. Wis. July 15, 2021)).
- In 2014, the employee requested that Walmart adjust her start and end times following a change to her work schedule because her condition required adherence to a rigid schedule of daily life activities, per the initial filing. The employee informed Walmart that she was unable to maintain her new schedule, but she alleged Walmart did not offer to modify the schedule. She was disciplined before being fired in 2015.
- The employee sued, alleging that Walmart unlawfully disciplined her, terminated her and failed to rehire her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury held that Walmart failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation that would not have posed an undue hardship, and that her termination violated the ADA.
The jury's decision is the latest development in a court battle that has extended for more than half a decade.
In a statement emailed to HR Dive, Walmart said it believed it could have resolved the issues brought forth in the former employee's complaint, "however the EEOC's demands were unreasonable." In a phone interview with HR Dive, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove declined to explain further, but said that the agency's demands were related to the employee's case.
Hargrove also noted that the actual amount of punitive damages awarded in the suit would be reduced to $300,000, the maximum limit of compensatory and punitive damages a person may recover in cases involving employers with more than 500 employees permitted under federal law.
"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year," Walmart said. "We often adjust associate schedules to meet our customers' expectations and while Ms. Spaeth's schedule was adjusted, it remained within the times she indicated she was available."
The retailer has been the subject of a few high-profile disability discrimination suits in recent years. In December 2020, a federal court upheld a jury verdict awarding a Walmart cart pusher $5.2 million after the worker alleged that a manager suspended and later terminated him after the manager requested that he resubmit medical paperwork to keep an existing job accommodation. The award for that case was similarly reduced to $300,000 in addition to back pay, front pay interest and tax-related awards.
In April, EEOC filed a separate disability discrimination suit on behalf of an applicant who alleged Walmart did not follow up with him on arranging an interview after the applicant told the company that he was deaf and requested an American Sign Language interpreter. The case is still pending as of July 19.
Following a 2019 agreement with EEOC to pay $80,000 to a former employee who alleged Walmart failed to accommodate her by reassigning her to a vacant position at a different store location, the company told HR Dive in a statement that it agreed to change its reassignment procedures.
"The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation's workplaces," EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in the agency's statement on the verdict.