A jury ruled against Walmart after it abruptly fired a longtime employee with Down syndrome.
Fifty-five-year-old Marlo Spaeth had worked at Walmart for nearly two decades; according to an interview with CNBC, she received immense satisfaction from her position. In 2015, she struggled to adjust to a change Walmart made to her work schedule.
Spaeth requested an adjustment to her start and end times. In response, the retail giant fired her.
Her sister and legal guardian, Amy Jo Stevenson, said that Spaeth quickly “receded into a shell” and lost the sense of purpose she got from the job at the Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, where she had thrived on interacting with customers.
Spaeth, 55, stopped coming to the phone, and would cover her face when someone wanted to take her photo. And when a Walmart commercial came on TV, or when a company truck drove by, she buried her head in her hands.
“Why me? Why did they do this to me?” Spaeth repeatedly asked her sister.
“It was nothing short of traumatic,” Stevenson said… “It was hard, very difficult to watch.”
However, Spaeth won her six-year legal battle with Walmart earlier this month — as well as $150,000 in damages. Meanwhile, Walmart was ordered to pay $125,000,000 in punitive damages — which was later scaled back to $300,000 by the presiding judge.
According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
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 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 Burrows in a press release. “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.”
According to the Department of Labor, the Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications.”