Jury finds retail giant suspended and failed to accommodate longtime deaf employee with visual impairment
MADISON, Wis.– On Oct. 10, a jury determined that Walmart violated federal law when it refused to accommodate the disabilities of a longtime employee, and awarded $5.2 million in damages, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, an employee, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and visually impaired, worked as a cart pusher in the Beloit, Wis., Walmart for 16 years before a new manager started at the store. In his first month, the new store manager suspended the employee and forced him to resubmit medical paperwork in order to keep his reasonable accommodations. Prior to the suspension, the employee performed his job with the accommodation of assistance from a job coach provided by public funding. The employee’s conditions had not changed, the EEOC said.
When the employee and his legal guardian submitted new medical paperwork, requesting the continued accommodation of assistance from a job coach, the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him, the EEOC charged.
After a 3½-day trial, the jury found in favor of the EEOC and awarded the employee $200,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $5 million in punitive damages.
“Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accommodations for disabilities,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “When companies shirk that obligation, the EEOC will fight to uphold the rights of disability discrimination victims. In this case the jury sent a strong message to Walmart and to other employers that if they fail to live up to their obligations under the law, they will be penalized.”
The case was tried for the EEOC by Laurie Vasichek, Carrie Vance and Jean Kamp.
The EEOC’s Chicago District is responsible for investigating charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.