A former Walmart employee with Down’s Syndrome, who was fired after raising concerns about her rota, has been awarded $125 million (£90.7m) following a lawsuit.
Marlo Spaeth worked at a Walmart store in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from 1999 until she was fired in 2015. Ms Spaeth was described by her managers as a “very hard worker”.
In late 2014, the store introduced a computerised scheduling system which analysed customer traffic to make sure there would be enough employees working when the store was most busy.
Ms Spaeth had her noon-4pm shift changed to 1pm-5.30pm, according to The New York Times.
The abrupt change worried Ms Spaeth. Her family reportedly told Walmart after the 2014 rota change: “She’s afraid she’s going to miss the bus. She’s afraid she’s going to miss dinner. It’s upsetting to her.”
Walmart bosses refused to switch back her working hours at her family’s request. Ms Spaeth then received two warnings for absenteeism as well as for tardiness. Eight months later, the supermarket terminated her contract, and then refused to rehire her.
In a ruling on Thursday, a jury in east Wisconsin’s federal court found that Walmart had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination against anyone with a disability.
“The jury here recognised, 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, a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which had sued Walmart on behalf of Ms Spaeth.
“Employers, no matter how large, have an obligation under the law to evaluate the individual circumstances of employees with disabilities when considering requests for reasonable accommodations,” said Julianne Bowman, the Chicago district director at the EEOC, in a statement.
“Ms Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life.”
She was awarded $125million, which Walmart argued would be reduced to $300,000 because of a federal law that caps compensatory and punitive damages at that figure. It also called the EEOC lawsuit’s demands “unreasonable”.
In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Walmart said: “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year. 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. The verdict will be reduced to $300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages. We’re reviewing our options.”
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