On Friday, a jury found Walmart discriminated against an employee with disabilities, violating the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by wrongfully terminating the man. Walmart continues to deny any wrongdoing and may file an appeal.
Former employee Paul Reina worked for 16 years at a Walmart in Beloit, Wisconsin, according to Disability Scoop. Reina has a developmental disability, low vision and is deaf. He worked with a publicly funded job coach as a reasonable job accommodation. When a new manager started at the Beloit Walmart, however, Reina was suspended within a month and asked to resubmit his medical paperwork to retain his disability accommodations.
Reina and his legal guardian resubmitted his paperwork as requested, but according to the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “the store cut off communication and effectively terminated him,” though Reina’s ability to do his job with a reasonable accommodation had not changed. The (EEOC) initially filed the lawsuit against Walmart for disability discrimination in 2017 after it first tried to resolve the issue directly.
After a three-day trial, a jury found in favor of the EEOC and awarded Reina $200,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages for violating his federal civil rights under the ADA.
“Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accommodations for disabilities,” Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said in a statement. “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.”
In a statement provided to Newsweek, Walmart upheld it had not violated Reina’s rights and said it does “not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence” and will weigh its “post-trial options.” Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, told Disability Scoop the new store manager terminated Reina out of concern for his 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 told the outlet, adding:
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.
In February, Walmart faced widespread criticism from the disability community after it announced it planned to change to the job requirements for its greeter position that would effectively mean employees with disabilities would no longer be able to perform the role. Walmart backtracked the policy change and said it was committed to its employees with disabilities.