Retail giant Walmart’s attempt to bully and disgrace a longtime and dedicated employee who suffers from Down syndrome has led to a tremendous court victory for disabled workers. A federal jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin, ordered the company on July 15 to pay more than $125 million in damages to the victim, who alleged she was fired simply because of her disability.
The amount is among the highest for a single victim in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Jurors ruled that Walmart discriminated against Marlo Spaeth, who worked as a sales associate for more than 15 years at the company’s store in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, before being abruptly fired in 2015.
Changed her work hours, fired her
Walmart – the country’s largest private employer — violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to accommodate Spaeth after changing her work hours from a shift where she had thrived since joining the store in 1999. Then it changed her work hours. The judge subsequently reduced the damages to $300,000 – the maximum allowed under law. The retailer faces additional potential legal punishment in paying fees along with Spaeth’s lost wages.
Working four days a week in a shift usually from noon to 4 p.m., Spaeth thrived when dealing with customers and consistently received good reviews from work supervisors. But that all ended in November 2014 when the store changed her hours, relying on a new computerized scheduling system matching staff levels with customer traffic.
Spaeth had difficulty adapting to her new 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. schedule, feeling sick and stressed out due to the change in work hours. Her reaction was typical of many who have Down syndrome due to struggles with changes in their daily routines.
After Spaeth asked Walmart supervisors to restore her former work hours, the company refused. Spaeth occasionally left work early due to worries that she would miss the bus home or miss dinner, leading to Walmart considering the early departures as absences and eventually firing her.
The six-year battle has nearly come to an end and exemplifies just how important disabled workers are for U.S. commerce. Disabled workers must be treated respectfully and with fairness.