U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Retail Giant Punished Forklift Operator It Called ‘Outstanding’ Because He Couldn’t Do Another Worker’s Job and in Retaliation for His Complaints
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. -- Walmart violated federal law when it fired a longtime employee because of a cancer-related disability and retaliated against him for complaining about the discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, the employee had successfully worked as a forklift operator at a Walmart distribution center in Midway, Tenn., for 12 years. He was a productive worker for three years following cancer surgery which left him with weakness in his right shoulder and arm. On November 24, 2008, Walmart asked the former employee to relieve a shipping department employee for a 20-minute break. Because his cancer surgery left him unable to manually lift, he could not replace the worker at this task. He then requested the reasonable accommodation of remaining in the forklift operator position he had worked for his entire career at Walmart, where no manual lifting was done.
Walmart refused this reasonable accommodation, the EEOC said. Instead, according to the agency, Walmart removed him from his forklift position, declared he could not perform the essential functions of his job, and placed him on unpaid leave – ironically, on the same day it issued him an “outstanding” work evaluation. The EEOC further contends that the man continued to request an accommodation, and then filed a discrimination charge. Shortly thereafter, on July 16, 2009, Walmart discharged him because of his disability and in retaliation for complaining about Walmart’s failure to accommodate him, the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-00222), in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Northeastern Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The lawsuit asks the court to, among other things, grant a permanent injunction enjoining Walmart from failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for disability, discharging an employee due to a disability, and retaliating against any employee for complaining about the refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation. The lawsuit also seeks appropriate back wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the former employee.
“This man had clearly demonstrated his worth and value to Walmart, but the company punished him because his disability prevented him from filling in for someone else’s job,” said Katharine W. Kores, director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office. “This treatment was not only outrageous, but unlawful, and the EEOC will continue to fight for such people’s rights.”
According to company information, Walmart is a discount convenience retail store with more than 8,576 retail units under 55 different banners in 15 countries, with fiscal year 2010 sales of $405 billion.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.