Jury awards $125 million after Walmart fires woman with Down syndrome

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Their attorney, Marlo Spaeth, was established in 1999 in Manitowoc, Wis. Over the next 15 years, he received several salary increases and positive performance reviews.

One manager wrote that he was “good with customers” and “hardworking”. Another manager wrote, “Marlo is a very friendly person and a pleasure to work here.”

But in November 2014, Miss Spaeth’s hours suddenly changed when Walmart installed a computerized scheduling system that the company said was based on customer traffic and was designed to keep enough people working at the store’s busiest times.

Her lawyers said Ms Spaeth is expected to work from 13.00 to 5.30pm rather than her schedule of 4pm the previous day.

Her lawyers said this sudden change represents a significant challenge for Ms. Spaeth, who has Down syndrome and lives a routine life. Her lawyers said Ms Spaeth had told an executive repeatedly that she wanted her old schedule back.

“She’s afraid she’s going to miss her bus,” her older sister and guardian, Amy Jo Stevenson, told a Walmart executive, according to court records. “She’s afraid she’ll miss her dinner. It upsets her. She gets very hot. She says she feels sick and can’t adapt to it, so we need to change her for her.”

But his lawyers said the company refused to reinstate Ms. Spaeth at the store, which is open 24 hours a day and has more than 300 employees, to its old schedule. His lawyers said Walmart later took two disciplinary actions against Ms. Spaeth for absenteeism and tardiness.

On July 10, 2015, Walmart fired Ms. Spaeth for excessive absenteeism.

A Walmart training coordinator took Ms. Spaeth’s vest and took her out of the store where she had worked for nearly 16 years. According to court records, the training coordinator later stated that both he and Ms. Spaeth were crying and Ms. Spaeth did not understand what was going on.

His lawyers said Mrs Spaeth and her mother and sister had spoken to Walmart executives and asked that she be rehired and allowed to return to her old schedule. But Walmart refused to rehire him, although his lawyers said in his termination letter that he could be rehired.

On Thursday, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Green Bay ruled that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability, and awarded Ms. Spaeth $125 million in punitive damages. and $150,000 in damages.

After a four-day trial, debating for three hours, the jury found that Walmart had not provided Ms. Spaeth with reasonable accommodation, although she needed it because she had Down’s syndrome, and this would not pose a challenge to the court. company.

The jury also found that Walmart fired Ms. Spaeth and then did not rehire her because she was disabled.

“The jury acknowledged that Ms. Spaeth lost her job because of Walmart’s unnecessary – and unlawful – rigidity and was apparently quite offended,” said Gregory Gochanour, who is suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Walmart for Miss Spaeth.

Walmart said in a statement that the decision would lower the maximum amount federal law allows for compensatory and punitive damages to $300,000.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and routinely host thousands of employees each year,” Walmart said. “We adjust partner schedules frequently to meet our clients’ expectations, and although Ms. Spaeth’s schedule has been adjusted, it has remained within the times she stated she was available.”

The company said it was “sensitive to this situation and believes we can resolve this issue with Ms. Spaeth”. “However, the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable,” he added.

An EEOC attorney declined to comment, but the agency’s Web site It notes that for employers with more than 500 employees, compensatory and punitive damages are limited to $300,000.

Employing more than 2.3 million people worldwide, Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer with more than 1.6 million employees in the United States. Web site.

EEOC’s Chicago regional manager Julianne Bowman said employers have a legal obligation to consider the individual circumstances of employees with disabilities when considering reasonable adjustment requests, no matter how large.

“Miss. Spaeth’s request was simple, and refusing it changed her life profoundly,” said Mrs. Bowman. Declaration.

A former program director at the Wisconsin Down Syndrome Clinic in Milwaukee, Dr. David Smith said in court documents that people with Down syndrome need routines to manage their day and may not have the cognitive ability to adapt well to changes.

When Walmart changed Ms. Spaeth’s schedule, she may have been disappointed by the stress of the change and the pressure she felt to adapt to her new hours, he said.

Expert witness for the EEOC, Dr. People with Down syndrome “make very good employees if they have the right job and an understanding employer,” Smith said.

“Their work becomes the main focus of their lives and gives them a sense of self-worth,” she said. “When Miss Spaeth’s schedule was changed, she could not adapt to the change.”

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