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Jury awards $125M to woman with Down syndrome in Walmart disability discrimination case

Walmart store

An eight-person jury ruled Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired a longtime employee with Down Syndrome who claimed she was wrongfully terminated.

After a four-day trial, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin found that the company had failed to accommodate Marlo Spaeth’s disability when she requested to have her schedule changed, The New York Times reported.

The EEOC presented evidence that a change Walmart made to Spaeth’s longstanding work schedule caused her significant difficulty. When she requested her start and end times be adjusted by 60 to 90 minutes and to be returned to her prior schedule, Walmart failed to act on the request and instead fired her.

Spaeth had worked for the company for approximately 16 years and had consistently received positive performance evaluations from her managers, according to evidence presented at trial. The jury also found that Walmart turned down Spaeth’s later request to be rehired because of her disability or because of their need to accommodate her disability.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability.

The jury awarded Spaeth $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125,000,000 in punitive damages after deliberating for three hours following the four-day trial.

“The substantial jury verdict in this case sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation’s workplaces,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows.

“All of those who come forward to ensure the right to a workplace free of discrimination do a service to our nation. Thank you to them and to my colleagues at the EEOC whose excellent work investigating and litigating the case made this important verdict possible.”

“The jury here recognized, and apparently was quite offended, that Ms. Spaeth lost her job because of needless — and unlawful — inflexibility on the part of Walmart,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office.

“Employers, no matter how large, have an obligation under the law to evaluate the individual circumstances of employees with disabilities when considering requests for reasonable accommodations,” said Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman. “Ms. Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life.”

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