STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A former longtime Walmart greeter recognized by at least hundreds of people in Happy Valley sued the retail behemoth recently, alleging he was wrongfully and unjustifiably fired.

Gregory A. Focht, who worked for the world’s largest retailer for nearly 27 years, alleged he was fired in July 2021 because he occasionally “mistakenly clocked in and out shortly before or shortly after he was allowed to do so.”

He worked during his final year under a new supervisor, who attorney David Gaines described as “much more rigid.” Focht was summarily fired one day after punching out several minutes before his shift was scheduled to end.

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Focht, 56, has lived with the lifelong effects of a generalized intellectual and developmental disability. Gaines wrote the disability is similar to — but not the same as — Down syndrome.

Rather than provide reasonable accommodations, Gaines wrote the company “aggressively applied Byzantine employment policies … to a limited number of innocent mistakes.”

“Walmart’s failure to in any way assist Mr. Focht — an individual with a known, open, and obvious intellectual disability — with the clocking in and out process is the very definition of a failure to accommodate,” Gaines wrote in the 30-page lawsuit.” Mr. Focht was doing his best to manage the clocking in and out process on his own. Rather than embrace that positivity, Walmart unlawfully terminated Mr. Focht’s employment.”

Focht, of Benner Township, was employed by the shopping center at 1665 N. Atherton St. The company pushed back against the lawsuit.

“We don’t tolerate discrimination, and our management teams are trained to consistently apply our policies. We accommodate thousands of associates with disabilities each year, but Mr. Focht did not request an accommodation to understand how to clock in for his shifts,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email. “He regularly accessed our systems without assistance to acknowledge his work schedule and to request time off. We will respond in court as appropriate once we are served.”

Many know Focht through his role as a greeter, but the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Famer has also made several public appearances. He scored a touchdown during the 2019 Blue-White Game after taking the handoff from former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.

Walmart policy prohibited Focht from clocking in 10 or more minutes before his shift began, Gaines wrote. He routinely clocked in nine minutes before his shift.

But the process, Gaines alleged, was “sometimes inaccurate.” Focht would use either a watch or wall clock to measure the time, both of which ran faster than Walmart’s computer system.

“Mr. Focht sometimes clocked in approximately ten minutes early. On those occasions, Mr. Focht’s actions were entirely accidental and by no means malicious or intentional,” Gaines wrote. “Elementary assistance from Walmart could have easily addressed the situation.”

Walmart allegedly claimed Focht was fired because he was previously disciplined and violated its attendance and punctuality policy.

Focht is seeking front pay, back pay, compensation for lost benefits, compensatory and punitive damages. Gaines alleged the business violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

“Respectfully, had Walmart properly satisfied its duty under the law … Mr. Focht could have easily satisfied any clocking-in concerns,” Gaines wrote. “And no termination of his employment would have occurred.”

© 2023 Centre Daily Times
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