Wal-Mart has been hit with over a $125 million dollar jury verdict in a lawsuit filed against it by the EEOC. A Wisconsin jury found that Wal-Mart was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it discriminated against an employee with Down Syndrome and ultimately terminated her. Further, Wal-Mart was found to have discriminated against that same employee by refusing to rehire her because of her disability. The bulk of this award was punitive damages as Wal-Mart’s conduct was found by the jury to be particularly heinous.
The EEOC filed a suit against Wal-Mart on behalf of Mario Spaeth, an employee of that store from 1999 to 2015. Spaeth has Down Syndrome and worked in the store part-time. As a result of Wal-Mart’s computerized scheduler, Spaeth’s schedule was abruptly changed in 2014because of a shift in customer demand. Because of her disability, this schedule change presented significant challenges for her, and her supervisors began writing her up for attendance issues. In response, Spaeth’s sister and legal guardian requested a reasonable accommodation for Spaeth in the form of returning her to her previous schedule. Wal-Mart refused, continued writing up Spaeth for attendance, and ultimately terminated her. In their termination letter, Wal-Mart noted that Spaeth would be eligible for rehire. However, Wal-Mart refused to rehire Spaeth when she reapplied because she requested the accommodation that she only be scheduled during certain hours because of her disability.
During the trial, EEOC attorneys introduced Spaeth’s 16 years’ worth of positive performance reviews prior to the schedule change, that the store which employed Spaeth had over 300 employees, and the termination letter which noted she was eligible for rehire. Dozens of the store employees would have been able to switch shifts with Spaeth at no cost to Wal-Mart and Spaeth had already demonstrated she could perform the essential functions of her job during the shift she requested. Ultimately the jury determined that Wal-Mart’s conduct was a failure to provide reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Additionally, the jury found that its conduct was willful, necessitating punitive damages. Spaeth was awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125 Million in punitive damages. A spokesperson for Wal-Mart notes that the amount of the punitive damages will be reduced to the maximum allowed under the ADA which is $300,000.
This verdict sends a strong message to businesses: ADA compliance is not something to be taken lightly and violations will be punished, severely. At Luchansky Law, our attorneys are well-versed in federal anti-discrimination laws, including the ADA. If your business would like assistance responding to requests for accommodation under the ADA for either an applicant or employee, give us a call at (410) 522-1020 to schedule a consultation.