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A Green Bay, Wisconsin, jury returned a $125.2 million verdict against Walmart Inc. in a disability discrimination case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Walmart said in a statement afterward that the verdict would be reduced to $300,000, which it said was the maximum permitted under federal law.
The jury found that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate Marlo Spaeth, a 16-year employee with Down syndrome, and then fired her in July 2015 because of her disability, the EEOC said Friday in a statement.
The EEOC said it presented evidence that a change Walmart made to Ms. Spaeth’s longstanding work schedule caused her significant difficulty.
When she requested her start and end times be returned to her prior schedule, Walmart did not act on her request and fired her instead, the agency said.
The jury also found Walmart turned down Ms. Spaeth’s later request to be rehired because of her disability or because of its need to accommodate her disability.
The EEOC said Ms. Spaeth had consistently received positive performance evaluations from her managers.
The jury awarded Ms. Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages after deliberating for three hours following the four-day trial.
EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in the statement, “The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces.”
“All of those who come forward to ensure the right to a workplace free of discrimination do a service to our nation.”
Walmart said in a statement it is exploring its options.
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year,” the company said. “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.
“We’re sensitive to this situation and believe we could have resolved this issue with Ms. Spaeth; however, the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable.”
A Walmart Inc. unit will pay $410,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit in which, it was charged, a Geneva, New York, male employee sexually harassed female employees for years although Walmart management knew of the conduct.