Jury Awards $125 Million To Former Walmart Employee With Down Syndrome
Walmart has been ordered to pay a former employee with Down syndrome over $125 million after a jury found that the retailer failed to provide her with appropriate disability accommodations.
The decision from a Green Bay, Wis. jury late last week comes in a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Marlo Spaeth who has Down syndrome and worked at a Walmart store for about 16 years.
Spaeth was always given positive evaluations, but was fired in July 2015 after having trouble adjusting to changes that were made to her longtime work schedule, the EEOC said. Spaeth asked Walmart to adjust her scheduled start and end times by 60 to 90 minutes and to restore her previous schedule, but the company did not, according to the federal agency.
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After she was fired, Walmart rejected Spaeth’s request to be rehired, a decision the jury said was due to her disability or because of the need to provide accommodations. Such conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC said.
At the conclusion of a four-day trial, the jury awarded Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages.
“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,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney at the EEOC’s Chicago District Office.
Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said that that the verdict will be reduced to $300,000, the maximum allowed under federal law. He indicated that the company is considering its options moving forward.
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year,” Hargrove said in a statement. “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.”