Woman With Down Syndrome Awarded $125 Million After Walmart Fired Her

Up close shot of Walmart building signUp close shot of Walmart building sign
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A federal jury found that Walmart had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation that would have not proven harmful to the company.

A jury awarded a Wisconsin woman with Down syndrome $125 million after being fired from Walmart. 

Marlo Spaeth began working with Walmart in 1999 as a sales associate, and she received several pay raises and positive performance reviews over the course of her 16 years there, according to The New York Times. 

In 2014 Walmart began using a new, computerized scheduling system based off of store traffic, and shifted Spaeth’s 12 p.m – 4 p.m. schedule to 1 p.m. – 5:30 p.m, her lawyers shared with the outlet.

Because Spaeth needs routine, this caused her extreme distress, and though she requested accommodations multiple times, Walmart refused, and then took disciplinary action against Spaeth twice for absenteeism and tardiness, her lawyers told the Times.

The court records show that in July of 2015, Walmart fired Spaeth for excessive absenteeism, and the training coordinator that walked her out of the building later testified that both she and Spaeth had been crying, and that Spaeth had not understood what had occurred, according to the outlet.

Spaeth’s lawyers stated that because her termination letter stated that Spaeth could be rehired, she, her mother, and her sister met with Walmart managers and asked that she be rehired and allowed to return to her old schedule.

But her lawyers say company refused, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Walmart on behalf of Spaeth.

This past week, a Wisconsin jury found that Walmart had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination based on an employee’s disability.

The jury awarded Spaeth $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages, according to a statement. 

Walmart said the verdict would be reduced to $300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages, according to the outlet. 

Walmart made a statement and said, “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year." 

The statement continues, "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.”

Walmart said that it was “sensitive to this situation and believe we could have resolved this issue with Ms. Spaeth...However, the E.E.O.C. 's demands were unreasonable.”

“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, a lawyer with the E.E.O.C.

Julianne Bowman — the Chicago district director at the E.E.O.C. — said employers, regardless of their size, had an obligation under the law to evaluate the individual circumstances of their employees with disabilities when considering requests for reasonable accommodations.

“Ms. Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life,” said said.

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