A former Walmart employee with Down syndrome has been awarded $125 million in a discrimination lawsuit which determined her dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Marlo Spaeth, of Wisconsin, worked at a Walmart store in Manitowoc for about 16 years before she was fired in July 2015 for excessive absenteeism after she asked for her start and end times to return to normal following an adjustment to her longstanding work schedule.
The adjustments meant Spaeth would have to work later and longer shifts, which she found difficult to adapt to, but rather than acting on her request Walmart instead fired her.
A lawsuit against Walmart was filed in 2017 and claimed the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in firing Spaeth, with evidence presented at the trial indicating she had consistently received positive performance evaluations.
A news release issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday announced that the Green Bay-based jury returned a verdict in favour of Spaeth, awarding the former employee $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages.
The jury found that Walmart fired Spaeth because of her disability and that the company turned down her request to be rehired because of her disability or because of the need to accommodate her disability.
In the news release, Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, said: ‘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.’
In a statement to the Herald Times, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hardgrove said that under federal law the damages awarded in the case would be reduced to the maximum amount allowed, which is $300,000.
The lawsuit asked the court to order Walmart to reinstate Spaeth with appropriate back pay and compensatory and punitive damage, as well as seeking a permanent injunction enjoining Walmart from failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability and discharging an employee because of a disability.
The company has said that it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and that it routinely accommodates thousands of employees every year.
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