Walmart worker with Down syndrome has fought the retail giant

Marlo Spaeth (left) was fired from Walmart in July 2015, after working there for almost 16 years old. His sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, was in a lawyer battle with the retail giant ever since. He filed a discrimination complaint with United States Equal Opportunities Commission.

Amy Jo Stevenson

Marlo Spaeth lived for – and he loved – his work in a Walmart in Wisconsin.

Then, after almost 16 years of working there, Walmart fired her abruptly in 2015. Spaeth, who has Down syndrome, was devastated.

His sister and legal guardian, Amy Jo Stevenson, said Spaeth quickly “withdrew.” in a shell “and lost its meaning of goal he got from working at the Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, where it thrived on interacting with customers and had received praise from supervisors in performance reviews.

Spaeth, 55, stopped coming on the phone and would have covered her face when someone wanted to take a picture of her. And when a Walmart ad came along on TV, or when a company truck he drove, he buried her head in his hands.

“Why me? Why did they do this to me?” Spaeth repeatedly asked his sister.

“It was nothing short of traumatic, ”Stevenson said in an interview with CNBC. “Era hard, very difficult to watch. “

For the past six years, Stevenson and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were blocked in a lawyer battle on On behalf of Spaeth with Walmart.

a jury in a federal court in Green Bay, Wisconsin, last week took just three hours of resolutions to find that Walmart had violated federal law in his treatment of Spaeta. jurors found the company discriminated against against Spaeth when he refused to accept his disability by returning it recently adjusted work hours back to one shift in which she had done well for more 15 years old.

The Americans with The Disabilities Act requires employers to find reasonable solutions for workers and customers.

Historical jury award

The jury ordered the retail giant to pay more of $ 125 million in damage – one of the highest in federal agency history for only one victim.

Those damages were reduced by the judge for $ 300,000, the maximum permitted by law.

Walmart has yet to face the possibility of be ordered to pay additional taxes, and Spaeth’s wages and lost interest. The dealer also could be forced by the judge to do changes at the company as a result of the verdict.

Walmart is the largest in the nation private employer, with more of 2.3 million workers in Worldwide. The company in Entries booked for 2020 of nearly $ 560 billion. Three heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton – Alice Walton, Jim Walton and Rob Walton – were, respectively, the numbers 10, 11 and 12 on the “richest Americans” of Forbes list, with Everything is fine of them who have fortunes valued at around $ 62 billion each.

Walmart has not said whether it will appeal the verdict in Spaeth’s case, but he said he’s reviewing hers options. “We take supporting all of our associates seriously and for those with disabilities, we regularly welcome thousands each year”said company spokesman Randy Hargrove in a declaration.

“We tried for more of an year to resolve this topic with the EEOC a avoid litigation, however the EEOC’s claims were unreasonable, “he said.

Stevenson, however, said Walmart showed no remorse or taken steps which could prevent another employee from facing similar discrimination.

she knows what changes shed like to see at Manitowoc store, And in every other Walmart in all over the country. she wants every one of Walmart employees and executives informed of their rights e requirements under the ADA, with the case of his sister as an example.

“A memo from Marlo Spaeth”

“I guess a memo from Marlo Spaeth is hanging up in every Walmart that says, ‘You can’t do that,’ “said Stevenson.

If Stevenson understands it wish for a note from Marlo Spaeth remains to be seen.

The EEOC said so plans to seek non-monetary remedies, according to Justin Mulaire, a lawyer for the federal agency who spoke with CNBC. He declined identify such remedies.

Remedies in past cases have included asking the court to order reinstatement of an illegitimately terminated employeee requiring nationwide mandatory training for managers or employees.

Hargrove said Walmart does not have changed its corporate policies, but said the leaders “continuously review, review or improve in base on changes in the law.” declined to comment on if Walmart will offer Spaeth’s job back, saying the case still is active.

The lawsuit led to a series of difficult times for Spaeth and Stevenson.

Stevenson and Spaeth resisted hours of questions from Walmart’s attorneys during the fight, which began when the EEOC found that the women her claims were well founded and have cited in Walmart judgment.

They grieved the death of they mother, Sandra Barnes, who had helped Spaeth first to apply for Walmart work e who he was a champion for those with developmental disabilities.

And Walmart forced Spaeth to go through hours of psychological exams, which left she downcast and sobbing inconsolably in the passenger seat of a car.

In a statement, Hargrove said the assessments conducted by both sides “are a common part of litigation to face the charges like grown up ones in this case, and we tried to be respectful of Mrs. Spaeth during her evaluation. “

Jasmine Harris, a university of Pennsylvania law professor who specializes in anti-discrimination law, he said retailers often bring employees with disability at the front of the store. They feature they in marketing materials And social liability reports.

With the verdict, however, Harris said the jurors sent in clear message to those employers: Spaeth – and so many others with disabilities – they are not charity cases or props, but qualified job applicants and contributing employees.

Employee, then fired

Spaeth started working in 1999 as a sales person at the Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, a small city in Eastern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Four days a week, for nearly 16 years old, Spaeth took the bus to the store where he rearranged up corridors, folded towels, made elaborate and extravagant on customers.

by Spaeth work to shift for the vast majority of his Walmart tenure ran from noon to 4:00 pm when he was done for the day, her took the bus back home, in time for an early dinner.

But in November 2014, Spaeth’s hours changed when the Walmart store Start using computerized programming system designed to match staffing levels with customer traffic, according to court records.

by Spaeth schedule was moved from 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm, according to the cause.

Spaeth struggled to adapt to change. Stevenson said in court documents and interviews that Spaeth felt ill, overheated and stressed out from the disturbed schedule.

Dr. David Smith, founder of the Down syndrome clinic of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, he testified in the court case that Spaeth’s response mirrored the challenges of lot of people with Down syndrome, who to have difficulty with changes in daily routines and other transitions.

Spaeth and his sister repeatedly asked supervisors to restore his old one schedule. But Walmart refused, according to the lawsuit.

Spaeth left the store first on some days, worried about missing the bus or her dinner a home.

Walmart began counting those days as “incomplete shifts”, which were booked as absences, instead of manager-approved early departures as they had been in the past, according to court records.

Eventually, the store took disciplinary action against Spaet, firing her in July 2015 for excessive absenteeism.

Even after his sister was fired, Stevenson said he thought the situation might be fixed.

He’s scheduled a meeting with store supervisors, carrying a print of ADA requirements and a copy of Spaeth’s dismissal paperwork, which he had a box checked saying it was summable.

EEOC takes the case

When i manager Walmart said no again, Stevenson filed a complaint with the EEOC, and in later received a letter in which it was said that the agency would take the case.

In their lawsuit, EEOC lawyers argued that under the ADA, if Walmart changed by Spaeth hours back it would be reasonable accommodation for his disability, and would not be a burden on Walmart or the store where he worked. That store is open 24 hours one day and ha more of 300 employees.

EEOC lawyers noted that in depositions, Walmart’s supervisors had said other sales associates would be happy to take the extra hours that would open up if Spaeth had given it old schedule.

They also noted by giving the hours to a less experienced associate, Walmart could actually save money money. Due to his tenure at the store, Spaeth’s wages had risen to $ 12.50 an hour, more how much an entry-level worker would be paid.

But Walmart’s attorneys argued that Spaeth wasn’t a … qualified individual with a disability because he could not come to work or stay at work on a reliable basis.

Walmart and Stevenson collided over further psychological tests, after Spaeth was distressed by a precedent session.

A Walmart attorney asked Stevenson what he would do if he had to choose between further examining his sister or rejecting the case.

Stevenson eventually decided to allow Two more hours of exams of his sister.

“They were making it difficult like possible to keep the case, “Stevenson said.” And it was … just mean. It was bad. “

Marlo Spaeth (left) “has withdrawn in a shell “when she was fired from her job at Walmart, her sister Amy Jo Stevenson said. She would not come on the phone or be photographed.

Source: Amy Jo Stevenson

“She was crying and I was crying”

Stevenson said money it cannot repair the damage from Walmart’s actions and it cannot return sense of identity torn from his sister.

“He had the job title with honor, “said Stevenson.” I think … in his mind, the store just he wouldn’t operate without her. “

In performance reviews, included in the case file, Walmart supervisors also noted Spaeth’s dedication to the job. They gave her positive marks and salary increases.

The day in which Spaeth was fired, a Walmart training coordinator named Debbie Moss escorted her out of the store, And in later she told EEOC attorneys that she herself started crying as Spaeth hesitated to divest her Walmart. employee dress.

“He said he didn’t understand, and he was crying and I was crying,” Moss said in a deposition.

“And I gave her a hug. And I said ‘Me know. ‘”

– CNBC reporter Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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