Walmart pays a $125 million fine after laying off workers with Down syndrome


Walmart pays a $125 million fine after laying off workers with Down syndrome

Walmart lost a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin when a jury sided with a sales associate with Down syndrome, and the company fired her because of her disability.

Marlowe Spaeth worked at Walmart for about 16 years before being fired from a Manitowoc store in 2015 for excessive absenteeism. According to the lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Spieth's work schedule changed after Walmart implemented a new computerized system in 2014, creating great difficulty for her.

The lawsuit said Spieth's case required that she maintain a strict schedule of daily activities. The lawsuit added that Spieth had requested that she be allowed to resume her previous work schedule from noon until 4 p.m. because if she did not eat dinner at the same time each night, she would fall ill. Spaeth claimed that instead of returning her to the old schedule, Walmart fired her; Walmart also refused to rehire her when Spaath requested it.

"Ms. Spaath's request was simple, and his denials profoundly changed her life," Julian Bowman, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Chicago area manager, said in a statement.

The federal court in Green Bay sentenced Marlowe Spaath to more than $125 million in punitive damages Thursday. In announcing the ruling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said Friday that the jury awarded Spieth $150,000 in damages.

Reduced damage

"The grand jury's ruling, in this case, sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable in our nation's workplaces," Charlotte Burroughs, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), said in a statement.

Walmart will likely pay much less than the substantive judgment awarded by the jury. A company spokesperson told The Associated Press on Friday that damages will be reduced to the maximum allowable $300,000.

"We often adjust assistant schedules to meet our clients' expectations, and while Ms. Spieth's schedule was adjusted, it remained at times she indicated she was available," Hargrove said. "We are sensitive to this situation and believe we could have resolved this issue with Ms. Spaath, but the EEOC's demands were unreasonable."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared the jury found that Walmart failed to accommodate Spieth's disability and fired her because of it, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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