After three days of deliberation, a jury determined Walmart was guilty of disability discrimination when it wrongfully terminated a disabled employee.
Late last week, Walmart was found guilty of discriminating against a disabled employee and of violating the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it wrongfully terminated the employee. Despite the jury’s ruling, Walmart has continuously denied wrongdoing and may even file an appeal.
What happened, though? Who was the employee who was wrongfully terminated? For starters, the former employee was Paul Reina. According to the suit that was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Reina worked for 16 years at a Walmart in Beloit, Wisconsin. It should be noted that Reina is deaf, has a developmental disability and poor vision. During his time working at Wisconsin, he also “worked with a publicly funded job coach as a reasonable job accommodation.” However, as soon as a “new manager started at the Beloit Walmart, Reina was suspended within a month and asked to resubmit his medical paperwork to retain his disability accommodations.”
Despite working with his legal guardian to resubmit the requested paperwork, the lawsuit claimed “the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him, though Reina’s ability to do his job with a reasonable accommodation had not changed.” As a result, the EEOC filed a disability discrimination suit against the retailer after efforts to directly resolve the issue failed.
The trial to settle the matter was over in three days and ended with a jury siding with the EEOC. In the end, Reina will be awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. When commenting on the matter, Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said:
“Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accommodations for disabilities. 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.”
Despite the ruling, Walmart maintains Reina’s rights were never violated. In a statement, the company said, “It does not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and will weigh its post-trial options.” Additionally, Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart said “the new store manager terminated Reina out of concern for his safety.” He added:
“After we applied the official accommodations review process, it was determined Mr. Reina could not perform the essential parts of his job with or without reasonable accommodations…As a result, he is no longer working at the store. We attempted to accommodate Mr. Reina’s severe limitations for several years but ultimately that was no longer feasible. We believe we could have resolved this issue with Mr. Reina, however, the EEOC’s demands were unreasonable.”