Walmart will pay $125.15 million in damages to settle a lawsuit that charged the retail giant on three claims of disability discrimination against a long time employee suffering from Down syndrome. An eight-member jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin found that the retailer failed to accommodate Marlo Spaeth and then fired her in July 2015 because of her disability.
“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows.
The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Walmart in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The lawsuit was filed after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Walmart through EEOC’s voluntary conciliation process.
The jury awarded Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125,000,000 in punitive damages after deliberating for three hours following the four-day trial.
According to the lawsuit, Walmart changed Spaeth’s longstanding work schedule and caused her significant difficulty. Spaeth had worked for the company for approximately 16 years and had consistently received positive performance evaluations from her managers.
When she requested her start and end times be adjusted by 60 to 90 minutes and to be returned to her prior schedule, Walmart failed to act on the request and instead fired her from the Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
The jury also found that Walmart also turned down Spaeth’s later request to be rehired because of her disability or because of their need to accommodate her disability.
These alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability.
“Employers, no matter how large, have an obligation under the law to evaluate the individual circumstances of employees with disabilities when considering requests for reasonable accommodations,” said Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
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