JURY AWARDS OVER $125 MILLION IN EEOC DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION CASE AGAINST WALMART
From the EEOC’s office this morning, a disabled worker just won a massive jury verdict in a case against Wal-Mart. The verdict was in a disability discrimination lawsuit, filed by an employee living with Down Syndrome who alleged that the company refused to agree to her request to maintain the regular work schedule. She had held the schedule for many years, but despite her request the company refused to accommodate her disability, terminated her, and refused to re-hire her when she re-applied to a similar, available position.
After what appears to be a two-day trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict awarding $150,000 in compensatory damages (“compensatory” meaning that the amount is designed to literally compensate the victim for losses resulting from the illegal, discriminatory conduct), and then a massive $125 MILLION in punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to deter the employer from future wrongdoing.
Foundry Legal supports and represents workers who have faced illegal discrimination on account of a disability. Many state laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit this sort of discrimination and bar employers from taking negative employment actions against those living with disabilities except in limited circumstances. These cases are difficult to prove and, unfortunately, many violations go without redress.
Punitive damages awards are subject to statutory caps, and the judge presiding over this case is likely to receive a request from Wal-Mart to reduce the punitive award to a level within the statutory maximum.
Congratulations to the EEOC on this tremendous victory! Read below for the press release from the EEOC.
Retailer Fired Woman with Down Syndrome
CHICAGO – An eight-member jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin returned a verdict of $125,150,000 in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on three claims of disability discrimination against Walmart, the federal agency announced today.
The jury found that the retailer failed to accommodate Marlo Spaeth, a longtime employee with Down syndrome, and then fired her in July 2015 because of her disability.
The EEOC presented evidence that a change Walmart made to Spaeth’s longstanding work schedule caused her significant difficulty. 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.
Spaeth had worked for the company for approximately 16 years and had consistently received positive performance evaluations from her managers, according to evidence presented at trial. The jury also found that Walmart turned down Spaeth’s later request to be rehired because of her disability or because of their need to accommodate her disability.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Walmart Stores East LP, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Case No. 17-cv-70) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.
The jury awarded Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125,000,000 in punitive damages after deliberating for three hours following the four-day trial.
“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “All of those who come forward to ensure the right to a workplace free of discrimination do a service to our nation. Thank you to them and to my colleagues at the EEOC whose excellent work investigating and litigating the case made this important verdict possible.”