Walmart is seeking a new trial in a case over the firing of a longtime employee with Down syndrome. A jury in July found Walmart wrongly terminated the employee, Marlo Spaeth, and awarded her monetary damages.
In a new court filing out late Tuesday, Walmart said it did not know about the link between Spaeth’s disability and her struggles to adapt to a new work schedule, which ultimately led to her firing. Spaeth served as a store associate at a Walmart SuperCenter in Wisconsin for nearly 16 years.
The big-box retailer further claims the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represented Spaeth in the case, did not show proof that Walmart “discriminated against her ‘with malice or with reckless indifference to [her] federally protected rights. ‘”The company is asking that the damages ordered to be paid to Spaeth be tossed and that the trial start anew.
Walmart and the EEOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The request for a new trial extends a years-long battle between Walmart and the EEOC in the disability discrimination lawsuit. Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, lost its disability lawsuit last year against the EEOC. The federal agency took up the case on behalf of Spaeth.
A jury and judge found that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired Spaeth rather than adjusting her schedule as a “reasonable accommodation” to her disability. Spaeth’s schedule was changed when the Walmart store began using a computerized scheduling system.
Spaeth and her sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, repeatedly asked supervisors to restore her old schedule but Walmart refused, according to the lawsuit. Walmart began tallying days when Spaeth left the store early and later fired her for excessive absenteeism.
A federal jury ordered the company in July to pay more than $ 125 million in damages in the lawsuit – one of the highest in the federal agency’s history for a single victim. Those damages were reduced to $ 300,000, the maximum allowed under federal law.
In late February, a federal judge ordered Walmart to rehire Spaeth and give her more than $ 50,000 in back pay.
Stevenson told CNBC last week that her sister would soon return to her job at the Walmart store. She said the pair was firming up Spaeth’s start date.
For her sister, Stevenson said the decision was easy – even though she was fired by Walmart and had not worked at the store since 2015. She said her sister was eager to put her Walmart vest again and missed the customers.
“She’s going to walk in there proud as a peacock,” Stevenson said at the time. “That’s who she is. She is a Walmart associate. To be that again will make her whole in some sense.”
Stevenson learned of Walmart’s filing when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday. She declined to comment on it.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.