Walmart should be under tighter scrutiny because of firing of employee with Down syndrome, EEOC says

Exterior view of a Walmart store on August 23, 2020 in North Bergen, New Jersey. Walmart saw its profits jump in latest quarter as e-commerce sales surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

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A jury found Walmart broke the law when it fired a longtime employee with Down syndrome. Now, the U.S. Equal Employment Commission wants the judge to put the nation’s largest private employer on notice to stop that from happening again.

In a motion filed Friday, the federal agency said Walmart should be under tighter oversight for the next five years and required to make clear in company policies that employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Plus, the EEOC said, Walmart should be forced to post a sign about the lawsuit and its actions at more than 100 stores. A draft of the memo, which the EEOC made and shared with the judge, lays out why the company was wrong to fire Marlo Spaeth, a longtime employee — and uses it as a cautionary tale about the consequences of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal agency is asking for the memo to be posted for five years in the region where Walmart violated the ADA.

A judge will ultimately decide whether or not to grant the injunctive measures.

Walmart is reviewing the filing, company spokesman Randy Hargrove said.

In a previous statement, he said Walmart’s leaders and managers “take supporting all our associates seriously and for those with disabilities, we routinely accommodate thousands every year.”

Marlo Spaeth (left) was fired from Walmart in July 2015, after working there for nearly 16 years. Her sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, has been in a legal battle with the retail giant since then. She filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Amy Jo Stevenson

The EEOC and Walmart have been locked in a legal battle for years over Spaeth’s firing. Spaeth, who has Down syndrome, worked for nearly 16 years as a sales associate at a Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, a small city in eastern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan. She was fired from her job after the store began using a new computerized scheduling system, which changed her hours. Managers refused to reinstate Spaeth’s longtime work schedule.

In July, Walmart lost the lawsuit and was ordered by the jury to pay a more than $125 million verdict — one of the highest in the federal agency’s history for a single victim. The damages were reduced by the judge to $300,000, the maximum allowed under the law.

In the motion on Friday, the EEOC said Walmart should pay nearly $187,000 on top of those damages to make up for Spaeth’s years of lost wages. It asked the judge to require Walmart to reinstate Spaeth as an employee or pay the equivalent of ten years of wages in lieu of reinstatement.

Yet the federal agency also argued that monetary damages are not enough. It called for the strictest oversight of Walmart — and the posted signs — in the region where Spaeth’s store is located. The region includes more than one hundred stores, according to one of the EEOC’s filings, but it did not say which states and cities it covers beyond that portion of Wisconsin.

In that region, it said Walmart should require ADA training for all managers and supervisors and incorporate adherence to those policies into annual performance reviews. It also said Walmart should be forced to notify the EEOC within 90 days about any request for accommodation of an employee’s disability and to share details about that request, including the person’s name and contact information — as well as how Walmart responded.

The EEOC’s motion echoes the wishes of Spaeth’s sister, Amy Jo Stevenson.

In an interview with CNBC in July, she said her sister was shattered when she lost her job. Stevenson said that she wants all of Walmart’s employees and managers to know about what happened to her sister — and to understand their rights and requirements under the ADA.

“I envision a Marlo Spaeth memo hanging in every Walmart that says, ‘You can’t do this,'” Stevenson said.

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