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.”
“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,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office.
“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 Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman. “Ms. Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life.”
The case was tried by Trial Attorneys Leslie Carter and Carrie Vance, along with Supervisory Trial Attorney Justin Mulaire. Lectric Chandler provided paralegal support at trial.
The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.