Walmart ought to be beneath tighter scrutiny due to wrongful firing of worker with Down syndrome, EEOC says

  • In a motion, the U.S. Equal Employment Commission said Walmart should be more closely monitored for the next five years after violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • A jury found that the wholesaler had broken the law by firing Marlo Spaeth, a longtime employee with Down syndrome, and refusing to accept her disability.
  • The EEOC said employees in a large region of Walmart stores, including those where Spaeth worked, should be informed of the verdict of the lawsuit and their rights.

A blue sign outside a building: Exterior of a Walmart store on August 23, 2020 in North Bergen, New Jersey.  Walmart saw profits jump last quarter as e-commerce sales soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

© Provided by CNBC
Exterior view of a Walmart store on August 23, 2020 in North Bergen, New Jersey. Walmart saw profits jump last quarter as e-commerce sales soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

A jury found that Walmart had broken the law by firing a longtime employee with Down syndrome. Now the US Equal Employment Commission wants the judge to announce the largest private employer in the country to prevent this.


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In a motion filed on Friday, the federal agency said Walmart should be under stricter supervision for the next five years and clarify in company policies that employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation.

Also, according to the EEOC, Walmart should be forced to post a placard about the lawsuit and its actions in more than 100 stores. A draft of the memo that the EEOC created and shared with the judge sets out why the company was wrong in firing a longtime employee – Marlo Spaeth – and uses it as a cautionary story about the consequences of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal agency is demanding that the memo be posted for five years in the region where Walmart violated the ADA.

A judge ultimately decides whether or not the interim measures will be issued.

Walmart is considering the submission, said company spokesman Randy Hargrove.

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In a previous statement, he said that Walmart executives and managers “take the support of all of our employees seriously and routinely take in thousands each year for people with disabilities”.

a man and woman smiling at the camera: Marlo Spaeth (left) was laid off at Walmart in July 2015 after working there for almost 16 years.  Her sister Amy Jo Stevenson has since been in litigation with the retail giant.  She filed a discrimination complaint with the US Equal Opportunities Commission.

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Marlo Spaeth (left) was fired from Walmart in July 2015 after working there for nearly 16 years. Her sister Amy Jo Stevenson has since been in litigation with the retail giant. She filed a discrimination complaint with the US Equal Opportunities Commission.

The EEOC and Walmart have been in a lawsuit over Spaeth’s dismissal for years. Spaeth, who has Down syndrome, worked for nearly 16 years as a sales rep at a Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, a small town in eastern Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. She was fired from her job after the store implemented a new computerized planning system that changed its opening hours. Managers refused to restore Spaeth’s long-standing work schedule.

In July, Walmart lost the lawsuit and was asked by jury to pay more than $ 125 million in judgment – one of the highest in federal agency history for a single victim. The judge reduced the damages to $ 300,000, the maximum legal limit.

In Friday’s motion, the EEOC said Walmart should pay nearly $ 187,000 on top of that damage to make up for Spaeth’s years of lost wages. It asked the judge to require Walmart to reinstate Spaeth as an employee or to pay the equivalent of ten years’ wages in lieu of reinstatement.

However, the federal agency also argued that monetary damages payments are not enough. It called for the strictest supervision of Walmart – and the signs put up – in the area where Spaeth’s business is located. The region has more than a hundred stores, according to one of the EEOC filings, but it hasn’t specified which states and cities it covers outside of this part of Wisconsin.

In this region, Walmart should require ADA training for all managers and supervisors and include compliance with these guidelines in annual performance reviews. Walmart should also be required to notify the EEOC within 90 days of any request for consideration of an employee’s disability and provide details of that request, including the person’s name and contact information, and Walmart’s response.

The EEOC proposal corresponds to the wishes of Spaeth’s sister Amy Jo Stevenson.

In a July interview with CNBC, she said her sister was devastated when she lost her job. Stevenson said she wants all Walmart employees and managers to know what happened to her sister – and understand her rights and requirements under the ADA.

“I imagine there is a memo from Marlo Spaeth in every Walmart that says, ‘You can’t do that,'” said Stevenson.

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