A jury has awarded $5.2 million to a longtime Walmart employee with a developmental disability after determining that the company failed to accommodate him.
The award comes in a case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in its treatment of Paul Reina who worked as a cart pusher at a Beloit, Wis. location.
Reina, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and visually impaired, had worked at the store for 16 years when a new manager took over. In his first month on the job, the new manager suspended Reina and required him to resubmit medical paperwork in order to maintain his reasonable accommodations, which included the assistance of a job coach, the EEOC said.
Reina’s condition had not changed, but when the new paperwork was submitted requesting that the job coach continue to assist him, the EEOC indicated that the store stopped communication with Reina and “effectively terminated him.”
The jury found in favor of the EEOC after a three-day trial, awarding Reina $200,000 in compensatory damages and $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. “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.” Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, said that the store manager was concerned for Reina’s safety.
“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,” Hargrove said. “As a result, he is no longer working at the store.”
Hargrove noted that federal law caps damages in cases like these at $300,000 and said Walmart does not believe the evidence supports the verdict and the company is weighing its options.
“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,” Hargrove said.