Retail Giant Refused to Hire Man With Cerebral Palsy, Federal Agency Charged
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. will pay $300,000 to a Hardin, Mo., man to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its suit, the EEOC alleged that Wal-Mart refused to hire Steve Bradley, who has cerebral palsy and uses crutches or a wheelchair for mobility, when he applied for employment at its Richmond, Mo., store in 2001. At the time, the retail giant was preparing to open a new 24-hour Supercenter and was conducting mass hiring. Bradley applied for any available job, but during his interview he was questioned about his ability to work using his wheelchair and was told he was “best suited” for a greeter position. Ultimately, the company refused to hire him. The EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 04-cv-0076 (W.D. Mo)) alleged that Wal-Mart violated Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire Bradley.
In a proposed consent decree, which will require court approval, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $300,000 to Bradley, provide ADA training to managers at its Richmond store, notify job applicants about the decree and inform several Kansas City-area job service agencies that that the company seeks to employ qualified individuals with disabilities. If approved by the court, the EEOC will monitor the company’s compliance with the decree for two years.
The settlement followed a February 2007 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No.06-1583 [8th Cir.]) that reversed a district court ruling dismissing the case. Wal-Mart had claimed that Bradley would pose a safety risk to himself or customers if he worked at the store using a wheelchair or crutches. In addition to finding that the EEOC presented sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial, the appeals court also held, in an important ruling interpreting the ADA, that an employer bears the burden of proof if it claims that a disabled employee or applicant poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of himself or others. After the appellate decision, the case was set to go to trial on March 31 of this year.
“We are pleased that after four years of litigation, Wal-Mart finally decided to resolve this matter,” said Jean P. Kamp, acting regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office. “This case sends an important message to employers that they cannot allow stereotypes or assumptions about disabled people to interfere with those people’s right to work in jobs for which they are qualified.”
“Working at Wal-Mart was a dream for Steve Bradley, and one that should have been attainable for him,” said Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC’s senior trial attorney who handled the case. “Mr. Bradley saw Wal-Mart’s ads on television showing disabled employees, and he thought it would be a great place to work. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart didn’t train its managers to see that an applicant’s ability, not his disability, is what matters. We’re very hopeful that this settlement signals Wal-Mart’s strengthened commitment to employing people with disabilities.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability, race, color, gender (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, age, and retaliation. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.