On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit in a Wisconsin federal district court against Wal-Mart Stores (i.e., Walmart), alleging that the retail giant violated federal discrimination laws when it failed to provide a simple accommodation for a longtime, mentally disabled Wisconsin employee. In its suit, the EEOC asked the district court to order Walmart to reinstate the former employee, who suffers from Down syndrome, and to provide appropriate back pay, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Reasonable Accommodation Required

Walmart had actually employed the employee in question for some 15 years. She worked a special, 12:00pm – 4:00pm shift. The EEOC alleges that when Walmart moved to a computerized scheduling system, it assigned the employee to longer and later shifts. Because of her disability, the employee was unable to adapt and she was eventually terminated. The employee’s sister attempted to force Walmart to rehire the employee, contending that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Walmart should rehire the employee and allow her to work her preferred schedule of 12:00pm to 4:00pm as a reasonable accommodation. When Walmart refused, the EEOC stepped in.

Is the Computerized System the New Boss?

Attorneys for the EEOC stress that the employee had a long and successful record with Walmart before it changed its scheduling policies. The employee received multiple pay raises and was rated with satisfactory performance reviews on a number of occasions. The EEOC contends that it would have been a simple matter to retain the employee at her old schedule. Essentially, the EEOC raises the issue of whether Walmart is blindly following the dictates of the computer system, instead of the requirements of the federal employment laws.

ADA is a Broad Civil Rights Law

Since its passage in 1990, the ADA has prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. Among other things, the ADA guarantees equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, and government services. Its goal is to assist disabled persons in such a fashion that they have the same sort of employment opportunities and benefits that are available to people without disabilities.

What Does the Recent EEOC Case Mean for Wisconsin Employers?

The Walmart case shows that the federal government continues to seek protections, including adequate accommodation, for persons with disabilities. The powers of the government (both state and federal) are broad when it comes to anti-discriminatory practices. The EEOC has a large and active legal department that takes an aggressive stance in many of these ADA cases. Employers subject to the ADA should exercise care and caution when making employment decisions regarding persons with a disability. Failing to do so can be expensive.

Milwaukee Business, Employment, and Commercial Litigation Attorneys

The Milwaukee business litigation firm of Kerkman Wagner & Dunn has more than 50 years of combined legal experience representing business owners in Wisconsin. We have assisted many employers in the review of their employment practices, and we stand ready to help Badger State businesses address the maze of regulations in force today, including the ADA and other federal laws and regulations. Our firm has big firm talent and provides small firm attention. Call us at 414-278-7000 or complete our online contact form.

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