Walmart denied new trial after losing suit brought by fired worker with Down syndrome

A Wisconsin federal judge rejected Walmart’s request for a new trial after a jury found that the retailer discriminated against a longtime employee[1] with Down syndrome by firing her. The judge on Monday sided with a July 2021 ruling that found Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired Marlo Spaeth in July 2015, CNBC reported[2]. Spaeth, 55, had worked at the store’s Manitowoc location for nearly 16 years, and claimed she was let go when she requested to change back to her regular work schedule after the company moved to a computerized system.

“Ms. Spaeth’s request was a simple one and denying it profoundly altered her life,” Juliana Bowman, a district director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), said at the time of the verdict. Spaeth’s attorneys argued that she thrived on routine, and the forced schedule change was a source of major unease.

The jury awarded Spaeth £125 million in punitive damages – one of the largest ever payouts for a single victim represented by the EEOC. The amount was later reduced to £300,000, the maximum allowed by federal law. Earlier this year, a judge also ordered Walmart – the nation’s largest private employer – to give Spaeth over £50,000 in back pay and to rehire her if she wanted the position, CNBC reported[3].

Marlo Spaeth was fired by Walmart in 2015 after working there for almost 16 years.Facebook / Amy Jo StevensonWalmart denied new trial after losing suit brought by fired worker with Down syndromeWalmart was originally ordered to pay Spaeth £125 million in damages.AP

Walmart challenged the initial ruling, arguing that the retailer did not know Spaeth’s schedule request was related to her Down syndrome.   

In a court filing issued on Monday, however, Judge William Griesbach upheld the ruling, writing that “a reasonable jury could find that Walmart was aware that Spaeth needed an accommodation because of her disability.” “Spaeth’s limitations and need for an accommodation were obvious,” he noted, including that some of the evidence came from Walmart’s own managers, who testified that Spaeth needed more help when the company disrupted her work routine. A spokesperson for the corporation told The Post Thursday that the team was “reviewing the opinion and considering our options” before moving forward.

Walmart denied new trial after losing suit brought by fired worker with Down syndromeSpaeth and her sister and legal guardian, Amy Jo Stevenson.Facebook / Amy Jo Stevenson

Speaking to CNBC[4] on Wednesday, Spaeth’s sister and legal guardian, Amy Jo Stevenson, said she was relieved that the long legal skirmish was behind them, though she lamented that they “still haven’t seen a penny” of the jury award.

Going forward, Stevenson is hoping to use the damages money to enhance her sister’s life through concerts, a new bowling ball, or a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame. But she said she is still frustrated by Walmart’s reluctance to accept responsibility. “It blows my mind that they have yet to own up to anything,” she said. “I don’t expect them ever to at this point.”

Walmart denied new trial after losing suit brought by fired worker with Down syndromeStevenson, right, hopes to use the damages payment to take Spaeth, center, to concerts and other fun events.Facebook / Amy Jo Stevenson

Spaeth’s case is far from Walmart’s only legal kerfuffle.

In August, an Oregon jury ordered the corporation to pay £4.4 million[5] in damages to Michael Mangum, who alleged he was racially profiled and harassed by a Walmart employee at the Portland store in 2020. “We do not tolerate discrimination. We believe the verdict is excessive and is not supported by the evidence,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said of the verdict.

At the time, he confirmed that the retailer was reviewing its options for post-trial motions.

References

  1. ^ found that the retailer discriminated against a longtime employee (nypost.com)
  2. ^ CNBC reported (www.cnbc.com)
  3. ^ CNBC reported (www.cnbc.com)
  4. ^ Speaking to CNBC (www.cnbc.com)
  5. ^ pay £4.4 million (nypost.com)