This Major Lawsuit Loss Could Have Devastating Consequences for Walmart
Retail giant Walmart has been at the center of many lawsuits before, but normally, their team of legal experts help them settle cases and avoid unfavorable court rulings. However, a recent lawsuit proved that Walmart cannot always avoid legal consequences. ThisThursday, Walmart lost a massive lawsuit concerning employment discrimination. Not only will they lose millions of dollars, but the lawsuit could also change the way they do things.
Employe With Down Syndrome Files EEOC Lawsuit Against Walmart
The lawsuit has its origins in an employment dispute from a little while ago. Marlo Spaeth is a woman with Down syndrome who had worked at Walmart for 16 years. Initially, she did well in her job, with managers and customers praising her attitude and performance. However, things took a turn for the worse when Spaeth's schedule was changed. Due to her disability, she found it hard to manage the new schedule.
Though Spaeth requested an accommodation from her manager, they refused to change her schedule back to her previous hours. Spaeth was unable to keep up with the new schedule, so she was written up for absenteeism. Eventually, she was fired from her job at the Walmart Supercenter of Manitowoc, Wisconsin..
After Spaeth was fired, her mother and sister tried to talk to the managers to find a solution. This did not work, so they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Despite the intervention of the federal government, the Walmart store in question refused to rehire Spaeth or work with the EEOC to settle the matter. Eventually, after they failed to reach a settlement or resolve the EEOC complaint, Walmart was officially sued.
Lawsuit Reveals Walmart Broke Federal Discrimination Laws
The lawsuit has its roots in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This law prohibits business from discriminating against employees due to their physical or mental disabilities. Employers who run a business with 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. This does not mean employers have to hire people who are incapable of doing the job altogether. However, they are supposed to be willing to make slight changes to guidelines or workspaces in order to make things easier for an employee with a disability.
In Spaeth's case, the issue was that Walmart refused to accommodate her need for a lighter schedule. Though the retail giant could have just changed her start time by 60 minutes and had one of their hundreds of other employees cover her shift, they would not change her schedule. Even after the EEOC became involved, Walmart still would not rehire Spaeth. Since it was clear that Walmart fired Spaeth due to her disability and would not provide any basic accommodations, the lawsuit was very short. In just four days, the jury promptly declared that Walmart was guilty of violating the ADA and owed Spaeth financial compensation.
Court Orders Walmart to Pay a Massive Amount in Damages
Initially, the jury decided that Walmart would have to pay $125 million in punitive damages. This would have meant that they essentially had to pay a huge fine for their discrimination. However, it was later revealed that this suggested amount in damages went beyond federal maximum amounts. Instead, the judge reduced the punitive damages to $300,000, which was the maximum amount Walmart could be fined.
Even though their fines were reduced, Walmart will still end up paying a huge amount of money. In addition to punitive damages, they also have to compensate Spaeth for damages caused by the discrimination. This includes $150,000 for mental pain and suffering, and paying her all the back pay she would have received if she was not fired. Walmart will also be liable for Spaeth's legal fees and interest on her back wages. The exact amount still has to be determined by the judge, but it could greatly extend the amount of money Walmart owes.
Lawsuit Ruling May Require Walmart to Rethink Employment Practices
In a statement from the company, Walmart states they are committed to avoiding discrimination in all their stores. Though they still maintain their behavior was not discriminatory, they may change their practices to prevent further lawsuits.
This lawsuit could have a big impact on Walmart because it helps to define what counts as a reasonable accommodation. In the future, if Walmart has employees with disabilities who need to work less, Walmart may change their policy to allow for schedule alterations.
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