Walmart loses EEOC incapacity discrimination lawsuit

Shoppers walk outside a Walmart store in San Leandro, California, United States on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A jury from the federal court in Wisconsin ruled that Walmart must pay more than $ 125 million in damages in a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunities Commission, the agency said on Friday.

That ruling was made Thursday by the judge on the case, who quickly reduced the dismissal of Marlo Spaeth, a 16-year-old Down syndrome employee, from the Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to a legal maximum of $ 300,000.

However, Walmart may still have to pay extra money for Spaeth’s back payment, prepayment, as well as interest and litigation costs, an EEOC spokeswoman told CNBC. The judge will decide on these amounts at a later date.

EEOC’s lawsuit in Green Bay alleged that in firing Spaeth, Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability.

In the lawsuit, the federal agency said the retailer had changed Spaeth’s long-running work schedule and refused to accommodate her requests for other hours, despite challenges due to her disability.

The complaint also stated that she was struggling to keep up with the new opening hours, which resulted in disciplinary action for absenteeism.

Ultimately, the company fired Spaeth despite receiving positive performance reviews from managers.

She also refused to reinstate them, even after her mother and sister tried to intervene and find a solution, the EEOC said.

“Employers, no matter how large, are required by law to assess the individual circumstances of workers with disabilities when considering reasonable accommodation requests,” Chicago district director Julianne Bowman said in a press release announcing the verdict .

“Mrs. Spaeth’s request was simple and her rejection changed her life fundamentally.”

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company is reviewing its next steps.

He said the retailer wanted to clear the matter with Spaeth but said the EEOC’s demands were “unreasonable”.

“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination and we routinely host thousands of employees each year,” said Hargrove. “We often adapt our employees’ schedules to the expectations of our customers. While Ms. Spaeth’s schedule was adjusted, it stayed within the times she specified.”

The jury in the case took less than four hours on Thursday to give its verdict. The verdict was announced shortly after the jury sent a message asking if they were limited in the amount of damages and received no, according to a summary of the trial released on Friday.

The jury awarded Spaeth $ 150,000 in emotional pain and anguish and an additional $ 125 million in punitive damages.

After the attorneys told the judge that the maximum legal amount for combined damages and punitive damages could not exceed $ 300,000, he ordered that amount as a verdict.

Spaeth’s sister Amy Jo Stevenson and the jury foreman declined to comment on the case.

Walmart’s shares were relatively flat on Friday, closing at $ 141.56. The retailer’s shares are down nearly 2% so far this year.

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