Walmart sued for firing of employee with Down syndrome

MANITOWOC, Wis. — Walmart is facing a federal lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission over termination of a 15-year employee with Down syndrome at a Wisconsin store.

According to a news release from the EEOC on Wednesday, Marlo Spaeth, of Manitowoc, Wis., was disciplined for absenteeism after management changed her schedule of 15 years. Spaeth typically worked from noon to 4 p.m. The new scheduling system called for Spaeth to work later and longer shifts and, because of her disability, she was unable to adapt to the changes in routine, the news release said.

Walmart did not change Spaeth’s schedule even after she requested the changes, the news release added. The new schedule took effect in November 2014 and Spaeth was fired for attendance issues July 10, 2015.

Amy Jo Stevenson, Spaeth’s sister and legal guardian, became involved when she received the call from Walmart regarding the termination. Stevenson said she was told the computerized scheduling system could not change Spaeth’s schedule back to what it was originally and was told Spaeth would not be rehired.

“The manager I talked to, she said ‘Well, we have to treat her just like everyone else,’ and I was done talking to her at that point because that is the farthest from the truth,” said Stevenson.

She decided to bring the matter to the EEOC because they had experience dealing with similar cases, she said.

“From the first moment I heard about it (Spaeth’s termination from Walmart), it didn’t feel right,” Stevenson said. “I think it is wrong and I didn’t let it drop. I think they (Walmart) expected me to drop it.”

Stevenson said Spaeth’s Down syndrome makes it extremely difficult to make any changes to her routine.

“We are talking about a person who just can’t easily be taken out of their habits and rituals,” Stevenson said. “It is something that needs to be respected.”

Stevenson said Spaeth was devastated by the termination and still misses working there.

In a statement released by Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove, he said Spaeth understood her job requirements and understood the importance of working her full work schedule. He said even after being spoken to about her absenteeism, she continually failed to complete her assigned shift.

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“We’re sensitive to this situation and we tried to reach an amicable resolution that would support Ms. Spaeth,” said Hargrove. “We remain open to continuing those discussions, but the EEOC has not acted in her best interest.”

The lawsuit filed Wednesday, EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, asks the court to order Walmart to reinstate Spaeth with back pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit also seeks a "permanent injunction enjoining Walmart from failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for disability and discharging an employee" because of a disability.

“Even the nation’s largest private employer must comply with the law’s requirement to make a good-faith effort to accommodate an employee with a disability,” said Julianne Bowman, EEOC district director of the Chicago District, in the news release.

Follow Alisa M. Schafer on Twitter: @AlisaMSchafer

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