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Jury Verdict for $125 Million Against Walmart

Marlo Spaeth worked for Walmart for about 16 years until the company fired her for excessive absenteeism. Spaeth has Down’s Syndrome which required her to follow a rigid schedule of daily activities. After12 years, Walmart changed Spaeth’s work schedule because of a new computerized system. She asked to be able to continue her former schedule of noon to 4:00 p.m. That schedule allowed her to eat dinner at the same time every night, which she needed to avoid getting sick. Spaeth alleged that Walmart fired her in response to her schedule request and refused to rehire her.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit against Walmart, asserting the company failed to accommodate Spaeth and terminated her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following a trial on Spaeth’s claims, a federal jury in Wisconsin awarded her $150,000 in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. The EEOC believes the substantial verdict sends a strong message to employers about discriminating against the disabled.

Walmart responded to the verdict, stating the punitive damages award exceeds the ADA’s statutory limit of $300,00 and would be reduced. The company also said its work schedules are often adjusted to meet customer expectations and, although Spaeth’s schedule was also adjusted, it still met her requirements. The company said it resolved the issue with Spaeth, but the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable.