Walmart Hit with $5.2 Million Jury Award in ADA Accommodation Case
Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor
October 23, 2019
A federal jury has awarded $5.2 million to a former Walmart employee for the company's refusal to restore a long-standing reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the lawsuit in federal court in Wisconsin on the employee's behalf.
Paul Reina, who is deaf, also has a developmental disability and is visually impaired. Reina had worked as a cart pusher in the Beloit, Wisconsin, Walmart for 16 years, and performed his job with the assistance of a publicly funded job coach as a reasonable job accommodation.
After a new manager took charge at the store, Reina was suspended and told he had to resubmit medical paperwork in order to keep his reasonable accommodations for his disabilities. While Reina was working with his legal guardian to resubmit the required paperwork, "the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him, though Reina's ability to do his job with a reasonable accommodation had not changed," the lawsuit claimed.
The jury determined that Walmart's refusal to allow Reina to continue to work with a job coach as a reasonable job accommodation violated the ADA and awarded him $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 office. "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."
Walmart continues to deny wrongdoing, saying it asked the employee to resubmit his medical paperwork due to safety concerns. Following an accommodation review process, Walmart determined that the employee could not perform the essential parts of his job with or without reasonable accommodations, according to a statement by the company. "We attempted to accommodate Reina's severe limitations for several years, but ultimately that was no longer feasible."
Walmart stated that it routinely accommodates thousands of associates every year and is weighing its post-trial options.