A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unit has agreed to pay $363,419 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by an intellectually disabled employee who charged she had been subjected to several years of harassment despite the knowledge of several members of store management.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company denies the charges.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday in its statement that harassment of Jamie Wells continued for several years, and that she was fired shortly after she made a formal complaint about the harassment to management.
The agency said the settlement includes $295,000 in compensatory damages. The agency said the settlement also requires Wal-Mart to provide sexual harassment training to managers at the Akron, Ohio store, and to human resources managers responsible for that store, which is part of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart's Wal-Mart Stores East L.P. unit.
The EEOC said training will include instruction on how to prevent the sexual harassment of intellectually disabled employees, including by working with job coaches and vocational counselors who interact with Wal-Mart on behalf of such employees.
Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office, which oversees Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, and portions of New Jersey and Ohio, said, in a statement, “The EEOC guidelines and Supreme Court rulings make it crystal-clear that employers must be accountable for failure to take prompt and appropriate action to stop harassment and for punishing employees who complain about harassment. Ms. Wells was a loyal employee who had worked at Wal-Mart for 11 years, but her developmental disability made her vulnerable to predatory sexual behavior. The EEOC is here to protect the rights of people like her, and we are pleased that Wal-Mart has come forward, at an early stage, to resolve this matter without the need for further litigation.”
Wal-Mart said in a statement it “does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any kind. Our policy is to treat everyone with respect and dignity. When we learned of Ms. Wells' claims against her co-worker, we investigated and took decisive action to terminate the man she accused. As part of our investigation, witness accounts led us to discover that Ms. Wells also engaged in inappropriate conduct which led to her dismissal.
“While we have decided to resolve the claims to bring this matter to a close, we continue to reject the EEOC's allegations in this case.”
The spokesman said the inappropriate conduct by Ms. Wells was with another employee.
Wal-Mart also said, “We have strong training programs already in place. Under the settlement agreement, we will conduct one, two-hour training at the Akron store on the policies Wal-Mart already has in place."
An EEOC spokeswoman said the agency had no additional comment in the case.
Last week, Wal-Mart Stores was charged by the EEOC with disability discrimination for its Cockeysville, Md. store allegedly refusing to let a job applicant with end-stage renal disease take an alternate drug test to urinalysis.