Walmart Wins $ 125 Million Jury Prize in ADA Suit by EEOC (2)

Walmart Stores East LP has to pay more than $ 125 million to a saleswoman with Down’s Syndrome whose EEOC claimed her schedule had changed, exacerbating the attendance issues for which she was later fired, a federal jury ruled in Green Bay, in Wisconsin, in a verdict on Friday.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission announced the verdict in her case against Marlo Spaeth, a long-time employee who she said was fired in July 2015 due to her disability.

The jury found that Walmart knew Spaeth needed a work arrangement for his disability and that this would not have placed undue hardship on the company to accommodate him, according to the special verdict form.

“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination and we regularly host thousands of associates each year,” Walmart’s Randy Hargrove told Bloomberg Law Friday. “We often adjust Associate schedules to meet our clients’ expectations and although Ms. Spaeth’s schedule was adjusted, it remained within the timelines that she indicated was available. We are sensitive to this situation and believe that we could have solved this problem with Mrs Spaeth, but the requests of the EEOC were unreasonable.

“The verdict will be reduced to $ 300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed by federal law,” he said.

The company is reviewing its legal options, Hargrove said.

The jury found that the company did not consider Spaeth’s disability and fired her because she is disabled, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After a new policy changed her schedule, Spaeth asked Walmart to adjust its start and end times from 60 to 90 minutes and revert to its previous schedule, the agency said. The company did not follow through with her request and instead fired her, the EEOC said.

Evidence from the trial showed that Spaeth had consistently received positive performance reviews over her roughly 16 years as a Walmart employee, the EEOC said.

The jury also found that her subsequent rehiring request was denied because of her disability or because Walmart was unwilling to accommodate her disability, the agency said.

According to the EEOC, the bulk of the jury’s award, $ 125 million, was for punitive damages. Spaeth will also receive $ 150,000 in compensatory damages, the EEOC said.

“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that discrimination based on disability is unacceptable in our country’s workplaces,” said Charlotte A. Burrows, President of the EEOC. “Everyone who stands up for the right to a workplace free of discrimination is doing our nation a service. Thank you to them and to my colleagues at the EEOC whose excellent work in investigating and handling the case made this important verdict possible. “

“The jury here recognized, and apparently was quite offended, that Ms. Spaeth lost her job due to unnecessary and illegal inflexibility on the part of Walmart,” said Gregory Gochanour. He is the regional attorney for the EEOC district office in Chicago.

“Ms. Spaeth’s request was simple and denying it profoundly changed her life,” said Chicago District Manager Julianne Bowman.

Judge William C. Griesbach of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin presided over the four-day trial. It ruled in January 2020 that Spaeth’s positive performance reviews before the schedule change could convince a jury that she was able to meet the attendance requirements and could have continued to do so had Walmart granted the requests to attend. accommodation she had received from her and her legal guardian to return to work her previous schedule.

The entry of judgment into the case will be delayed until the issues of wage arrears and fair compensation have been decided, according to the court record.

EEOC attorneys in Milwaukee and Chicago represent the commission. MWH Law Group and Conway Olejniczak & Jerry represent Walmart.

The case is EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, ED Wis., # 1: 17-cv-00070, jury verdict entered 7/16/21.

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