After a Six-Yr Authorized Battle, Walmart should pay $125 Million in Damages to Lady Fired with Down Syndrome

Richard Koss, San Francisco labor attorney

Retail giant terminates sixteen year old workers after refusing to comply with a request for a schedule change as a reasonable accommodation. by Diane Lilli

Employers must provide a qualified worker with reasonable accommodation unless they can demonstrate that doing so poses a “direct threat” to workers or would “unduly hardship” for the employer. ”

– Richard Koss, Bay Area labor law attorney

REDWOOD CITY, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, Aug 5, 2021 / – Marlo Spaeth, who has Down syndrome and was laid off by Walmart, easily won a lengthy legal battle against the giant retailer. Spaeth’s sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, worked with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on their lawsuit against Walmart. Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, employs over 2.2 million people worldwide. In 2020 alone, the gigantic company had sales of almost 560 billion US dollars.

Last week, after more than six years of fighting in court, a jury found Walmart guilty of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The company will now pay Spaeth more than $ 125 million in damages.

Spaeth, 55, worked for Walmart for over sixteen years and court records show that she loved her job. In 2015, however, she was abruptly released, and Spaeth, according to her sister and legal guardian, “withdrew into a shell” and became severely depressed.

In an interview with CNN, Stevenson said her sister was traumatized by the layoff.
“It was nothing short of traumatic,” said Stevenson. “It was hard, very hard to see.”

The jury’s historic $ 125 million prize is one of the highest in EEOC history for a single victim. Labor lawyer Richard Koss explains what it takes to prove a case under the ADA. “The plaintiff must be an employee with a physical or mental impairment that severely restricts an essential life activity and can perform the essential functions of the activity with or without reasonable accommodation. The plaintiff must then prove that he or she was unlawfully discriminated against because of the disability. ”Each part of the definition above contains legal terms that parties and courts must deal with.

Plaintiffs can also face discrimination under the ADA if they are “considered” disabled or have a disability, even if they are not currently disabled.

As a result of the ruling, Walmart may be asked to change its employment policy and pay Spaeth more, including reduced wages and interest.

The Green Bay, Wisconsin jury made their decision in about three hours and agreed that Walmart had broken federal law when it fired Spaeth. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all US employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” for workers with disabilities. As attorney Koss explains, an employer must provide a qualified employee with reasonable accommodation unless the employer can demonstrate that the provision represents an “imminent danger” to the employee or another employee or puts the employer in “undue hardship” would bring. “Unless any of these restrictions apply,” says Koss, “the employer may need to make reasonable arrangements for a qualified employee.” However, Koss warns that the employee may not always be able to choose which accommodation is provided. “If there are several reasonable accommodations, the employer can choose which one to provide,” he says.

The employer is required to have an interactive process with the employee to make reasonable accommodation that works for both parties.

The jury found that Walmart discriminated against Spaeth in part by refusing to take into account her disability from Down syndrome by not adjusting her new working hours despite her successful, long track record in the store.

Spaeth’s Walmart shift was the same for fourteen years, from noon to 4 p.m. Spaeth grew anxious and upset about the annoying schedule change that is a common condition associated with Down syndrome.
Although Spaeth and her sister asked management to reset their shift schedule due to the trauma Spaeth suffered, they refused.

The problems with the schedule change eventually led to Spaeth being fired. After numerous refusals to reinstate her, Stevenson filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission.

EEOC lawyers said in court records that if Walmart changed Spaeth’s work shift back to her previous one, it would be a reasonable accommodation for her disability, and that change would “put no burden on Walmart” or the shop where she worked. The store with over 300 employees is open around the clock.

The plaintiff’s attorneys also said in court records that numerous other Walmart employees were willing to help and attend Spaeth’s new shift so that she could be reinstated.

Walmart refused to accommodate Spaeth, saying she was “unreliable”.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove made a statement: “We take the support of all of our employees seriously, and we routinely host thousands each year for people with disabilities. We tried to resolve this matter with the EEOC for over a year to avoid litigation, but the EEOC’s demands were inappropriate. “

Stevenson, inspired by her sister’s successful lawsuit, said she wants every Walmart store to pay tribute to its employees and protect every employee with a disability.

In an interview, Stevenson said, “I imagine that every Walmart has a memo from Marlo Spaeth that says, ‘You can’t do that.'”

Walmart Spaeth’s law firm underwent hours of psychological investigation during years of epic litigation. Her sister said this drained Spaeth emotionally and was crying in a parking lot in her car.

“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong signal to employers that disability discrimination in our country’s workplaces is unacceptable,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “All who stand up for the right to a non-discriminatory job are doing our nation a service. Many thanks to her and to my colleagues from EEOC, whose excellent work in investigating and conducting the case made this important judgment possible. “

Walmart has not announced whether it will appeal the decision.

Richard Koss
Bay Area labor law attorney
+1 650-722-7046
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August 05, 2021 at 6:58 pm GMT

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