Walmart ordered to pay $125M after firing worker with Down syndrome

A Wisconsin jury has determined that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired a sales associate who has Down syndrome over schedule-related issues.

After a four-day trial, the jury awarded Marlo Spaeth, who had worked at Walmart for about 16 years, more than $125 million in damages, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced last week.

According to the lawsuit, which was brought by the EEOC, Spaeth’s work schedule changed after Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer with over 1.6 million employees in the US, rolled out a new computerized system in 2014, which created significant hardship for Spaeth.

Spaeth thrives on routine, her lawyers argued, and the abrupt change in her schedule created headaches and unease for the woman.

She requested multiple times that Walmart restore her prior work schedule of noon to 4 p.m., the lawsuit said. But instead, Walmart fired her, Spaeth’s lawyers alleged.

Walmart’s actions constituted a failure to provide reasonable accommodation, the jury ruled on Friday.

Walmart fired Spaeth after she asked for her prior schedule back.
Corbis via Getty Images

The jury awarded Spaeth $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages.

“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,” Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, said in a statement.

The jury also found that Walmart had fired Spaeth and then failed to rehire her — even though her termination letter said she could be hired again — because she has a disability.

“Ms. Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life,” said Julianne Bowman, Chicago district director for the EEOC.

Walmart said the verdict would be reduced to $300,000, the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages.
Corbis via Getty Images

Despite the lofty order by the jury, Walmart said in a statement that the verdict would be reduced to $300,000, the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year,” Walmart 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.”