Judge denies Walmart's request for new trial after employee with Down syndrome was fired

Judge denies Walmart’s request for new trial after employee with Down syndrome was fired

Marlo Spaeth (left) was fired from Walmart in July 2015, after working there for nearly 16 years. His sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, has since been in a legal battle with the retail giant. She filed a discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Amy Jo Stevenson

A federal judge dismissed walmart request for a new trial after a jury found the retailer discriminated against a longtime employee with Down syndrome by refusing to adjust her schedule and firing her.

In a court filing on Monday, the judge upheld the July 2021 ruling. A jury found Walmart broke the law by firing Marlo Spaeth, an employee who folded towels, tidied aisles and helped customers for nearly 16 years. at a Walmart Supercenter in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

He ordered Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, to pay more than $125 million in damages – one of the highest ever won for a single victim by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal agency filed a disability discrimination lawsuit on Spaeth’s behalf.

Damages were reduced by the judge to $300,000, the maximum allowed by law.

The judge also ordered Walmart earlier this year to give Spaeth more than $50,000 in back wages and rehire her immediately, if she is interested in the position.

The judge’s denial is the latest in a seven-year battle between Spaeth’s family and Walmart.

“The court found that a reasonable jury could find that Walmart knew Spaeth needed accommodation because of his disability,” Judge William Griesbach wrote in Monday’s court filing. “The jury was well placed to answer this factual question, and this court will not interfere with that finding.”

Spaeth’s sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, told CNBC on Wednesday that the judge’s decision was a relief. Still, she said she was still looking for closure.

Spaeth’s dismissal has permanently upended their lives and taken away his sister’s sense of purpose, Stevenson said. Spaeth also struggled with depression, and despite the historic jury award, “still hasn’t seen a dime,” Stevenson added.

The dispute began when the retailer moved to a computerized scheduling system and changed Spaeth’s longtime shift. Spaeth was unable to fit into the schedule due to his disability, Stevenson told the jury. The schedule change prevented Spaeth from taking the same bus and returning in time for dinner. Instead of adjusting Spaeth’s shift to her old hours, Walmart fired her in July 2015.

Walmart challenged the jury’s verdict and asked the judge to dismiss damages. Among its arguments, Walmart said the federal agency failed to prove that the retailer knew Spaeth’s scheduling issues were related to his Down syndrome.

Griesbach punched holes in this, saying the trial included ample evidence that Spaeth’s “limitations and need for accommodation were evident.” Some of that evidence came from Walmart’s own officials, who said Spaeth needed extra help when the company changed its work routine.

Walmart could appeal the case. Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company was “reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”

Stevenson said she can’t wait to get the check, so she knows the years-long court battle is behind them. She plans to use it for experiences that enrich her sister’s life, such as concert tickets, a new bowling ball, or a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Since the layoff, music has been one of Spaeth’s few joys, she said.

Stevenson said it was exhausting to watch Walmart continue to fight the jury’s verdict.

“It amazes me that they haven’t recognized anything yet,” she said. “I don’t expect them to at this point.”

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