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Walmart ordered to pay $125m in damages to fired employee with Down Syndrome

A US federal court jury ruled that she had been unfairly dismissed.

Allie Nawrat

Fortune 500

Credit: RYO via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleThis is because Walmart had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Retail giant Walmart, which is currently ranked number one in the Fortune 500 list, has lost a federal court case.

The jury in the Wisconsin court sided with a former sales associate with Down syndrome called Marol Spaeth and determined that she had been unfairly dismissed by Walmart in 2015. 

They ruled that Walmart had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability, ordered the retailer to pay $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensation to Spaeth.

This is because the jury found that Walmart failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate Spaeth’s disability, according to the Guardian.

Spaeth had worked at Walmart from 1999 and had always been commended for being such a hard worker.

But in November 2014, Walmart introduced a new computerised scheduling system (it is not clear which HR tech platform was used) for all employees. This changed Spaeth’s working hours from 12pm until 4pm to 1pm until 5:30pm.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who brought the case against Walmart on Spaeth’s behalf, presented evidence that this change to her scheduling “caused her significant difficulty”.

AP News reported that Spaeth’s condition means that she must maintain a rigid schedule, especially around her dinner times.

“When she requested her start and end times be adjusted by 60 to 90 minutes and to be returned to her prior schedule, Walmart failed to act on the request and instead fired her”, the EEOC wrote in a release.

The jury also ruled that Walmart turned down Spaeth’s later request to rehired either because of her disability or because of their need to accommodate her unique needs.

Talking about the verdict, EEOC’s Chicago District Office, which also acts in Wisconsin, regional attorney Gregory Gochanour commented:

“The jury here recognized, and apparently was quite offended, that Ms. Spaeth lost her job because of needless — and unlawful — inflexibility on the part of Walmart.”

EEOC chair Charlotte Burrows added: “The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces.

“All of those who come forward to ensure the right to a workplace free of discrimination do a service to our nation.”

A Walmart spokesperson told UNLEASH:

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year. We often adjust associate schedules to meet our customers’ expectations and while Ms. Spaeth’s schedule was adjusted, it remained within the times she indicated she was available.

“We’re sensitive to this situation and believe we could have resolved this issue with Ms. Spaeth, however the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable. 

“The verdict will be reduced to $300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages. 

“We’re reviewing our options.”

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