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Jury awards disabled Walmart worker $5.2 million


A federal jury in Wisconsin awarded a disabled Walmart Inc. employee $5.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, concluding the retailer had violated federal law when it allegedly refused to accommodate the long-time worker, said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had filed the litigation on the worker’s behalf.

However, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said in a statement that under federal law, the combined amount of damages is capped at $300,000 and that the EEOC’s demands in the case were “unreasonable.”

The EEOC said Friday that an unnamed employee who has a development disability and is deaf and visually impaired had worked as a cart pusher in Beloit, Wisconsin, for 16 years before a new manager started at the store,

The new store manager suspended the employee in his first month and forced him to resubmit medical paperwork to keep his reasonable accommodations, according to the EEOC statement.

Before his suspension, the employee had performed his job with accommodation with the assistance of a job coach provided by public funding and the employee’s conditions had not changed, the EEOC said.

It said when the employee and his legal guardian submitted new medical paperwork requesting the job coach’s continued assistance, the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him.

On Thursday, a Madison, Wisconsin, jury found in the EEOC’s favor after a 3½-day trial and awarded him $200,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $5 million in punitive damages.

“Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accom­modations for disabilities,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, in the statement.

 “When companies shirk that obligation, the EEOC will fight to uphold the rights of disability discrimin­ation victims. In this case the jury sent a strong message to Walmart and to other employers that if they fail to live up to their obligations under the law, they will be penalized.”

Walmart said in its statement, “We are deeply sorry this matter reached this point. We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year. 

“We attempted to accommodate (the employee’s) severe limitations for several years but ultimately that was no longer feasible.

“We believe we could have resolved this issue with (the employee), however the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable. We are disappointed in the outcome, do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and are weighing our post-trial options. 

“We believe the compensatory damages were excessive and the Court erred in allowing the jury to assess punitive damages at all. Under federal law the combined amount of damages is capped at $300,000.”

Walmart also said that when the new manager started at the store, safety concerns for the employee “led our store manager to ask for an official accommodations review process.

“After we applied the official accommodations review process, it was determined (the employee) could not perform the essential parts of his job with or without reasonable accommodations. As a result, he is no longer working at the store.”

In September, a Brooklyn jury awarded two fired employees of a beverage distribution company who were the firm’s two oldest salesmen a total award of $458,000 in an age discrimination case filed by the EEOC on their behalf. 




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