Labor & Employment Law Daily Jury awards $5M against Walmart in EEOC disability bias case
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Jury awards $5M against Walmart in EEOC disability bias case

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The jury found the retail giant violated the ADA by failing to give a reasonable accommodation to a developmentally disabled cart pusher who is deaf and visually impaired, and firing him due to his disability.

On October 10, a federal jury in the Western District of Wisconsin determined that Walmart violated the ADA when it refused to accommodate the disabilities of a longtime employee who needed a job coach, and awarded $5.2 million in damages.

Working with a job coach. The employee, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and visually impaired, worked as a cart pusher in the Beloit, Wisconsin, Walmart for 16 years before a new manager started at the store. In his first month, the new store manager suspended the employee and forced him to resubmit medical paperwork in order to keep his reasonable accommodations, the EEOC alleged in a lawsuit. Before the suspension, the employee performed his job with the accommodation of assistance from a job coach provided by public funding, and the employee’s conditions had not changed, the EEOC said.

When the employee and his legal guardian submitted new medical paperwork, requesting the continued accommodation of assistance from a job coach, the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him, according to the EEOC.

Summary judgment denied. In December 2018, the court denied Walmart’s motion for summary judgment against the ADA failure-to-accommodate and constructive discharge claims brought by the EEOC. The court found that disputed issues of material fact remained, including whether the employee was a “qualified” individual and whether allowing a permanent job coach was a reasonable accommodation.

Trial and verdict. At the end of a three-and-a-half-day trial, the jury found in favor of the EEOC. Specifically, the jury determined that the retail giant violated the ADA by failing to provide the employee a reasonable accommodation and by ending his employment because of his disability.

For those violations, the jury awarded the employee $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,” EEOC District Attorney Gregory Gochanour said. “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.”

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