In a disability discrimination complaint filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an eight-member jury in Wisconsin ordered Walmart to pay more than $125 million in damages to a former employee with Down syndrome (EEOC). However, a judge limited the damages to the statutory maximum of $300,000.
According to an EEOC statement, Marlo Spaeth had been working for the retailer for 16 years before she was fired in July 2015 due to her impairment.
Spaeth had routinely earned excellent performance reviews from her managers while her work schedule was between noon and 4 p.m., according to the EEOC. However, a sudden change in working hours from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in November 2014 made it difficult for her to adjust to the new schedule, according to the New York Times.
According to the lawsuit, Spaeth must adhere to a strict schedule, and any deviation from it may result in a struggle due to her condition. Spaeth would become ill if she would not have dinner at the same time every evening, according to the Associated Press.
Spaeth had requested that her start and end timings be adjusted back to her original timetable. Despite her request for a schedule change, Walmart fired her in July 2015 for excessive absences. Walmart also declined Spaeth’s attempt to rehire her.
In a statement, EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows stated, “The large jury award in this case sends a strong message to employers that handicap discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workforce.” “All who come out to protect the right to a job free of discrimination do our country a service. ”
Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove stated that the firm does not accept any form of discrimination and accommodates thousands of employees each year. “We frequently alter associate schedules to suit the demands of our clients, and while Ms. Spaeth’s schedule was adjusted, it stayed within the periods she indicated she was available,” Hargrove said. “We are aware of the matter and feel we could have settled it with Ms. Spaeth, but the EEOC’s expectations were unreasonable.”
“Employers, no matter how large, have a legal obligation to analyze the particular circumstances of employees with disabilities when considering requests for reasonable accommodations,” said Julianne Bowman, Chicago District Director.
“Ms. Spaeth’s request was straightforward, and refusing it had a tremendous impact on her life,” she continued.