Walmart Stores East LP has to pay more than $ 125 million to a sales rep with Down syndrome whose schedule was changed according to EEOC, compounding the attendance problems for which she was later fired, a federal jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin ruled on Friday .
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the verdict in its lawsuit against Marlo Spaeth, a longtime employee who was dismissed in July 2015 because of her disability.
“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination and we routinely take on thousands of employees each year,” Walmart’s Randy Hargrove told Bloomberg Law on Friday. “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 indicated that she was available. We are sensitive to this situation and believe that we could have solved this problem with Ms. Spaeth, but the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable. “
“The verdict will be reduced to $ 300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed under federal law,” he said.
The company is currently reviewing its legal options, Hargrove said.
The jury found that the company did not consider Spaeth’s disability and resigned her because she is disabled, which goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC said.
After a new policy resulted in her schedule being changed, Spaeth asked Walmart to adjust her start and end times by 60 to 90 minutes and go back to her previous schedule, the agency said. The company did not comply with their request and instead dismissed them, the EEOC said.
The evidence from the trial showed that Spaeth had received consistently positive performance reviews during her roughly 16 years as a Walmart employee, the EEOC said.
The jury also noted that her later reinstatement request was denied because of her disability or because Walmart was unwilling to accept her disability, the agency said.
Most of the jury award – $ 125 million – was earmarked for punitive damages, according to the EEOC. Spaeth will also receive $ 150,000 in damages, the EEOC said.
“The substantial jury ruling in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our country’s workplaces,” 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 you and to my colleagues from EEOC, whose excellent work in investigating and litigating the case made this important judgment possible. “
“The jury here recognized, and apparently quite offended, that Ms. Spaeth lost her job because of the unnecessary – and unlawful – inflexibility of Walmart,” said Gregory Gochanour. He is the regional attorney for the Chicago District Office of the EEOC.
“MS. Spaeth’s request was simple and her rejection changed her life fundamentally,” said Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman.
Judge William C. Griesbach of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin led the four-day trial. He ruled in January 2020 that Spaeth’s positive performance reviews prior to the schedule change could convince a jury that she could and could have continued to meet the attendance requirement if Walmart had granted the housing requests received from her and her legal guardian to resume her previous schedule to edit.
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., No. 1: 17-cv-00070, jury judgment announced on 7/16/21.