Giant Retailer Refused to Accommodate Disabled Employee by Reassigning Her to a Nearby Store, Federal Agency Charges
BANGOR, Maine - Walmart, Inc. violated federal law by failing to reassign a long-term employee to a vacant position in another location after she became disabled while working at its Augusta, Maine store, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's complaint, Veronica Resendez, who had worked for Walmart since 1999, developed a disability that, according to Walmart, prevented her from working in her sales associate position in Augusta. Walmart determined that the only positions that could accommodate her disability were fitting room associate and people greeter. While there were no such positions vacant in Augusta, there were two fitting room associate positions open in Waterville, Maine. Walmart's policy, however, was to search for open positions only in the store in which the employee had been working. Because of this, it never transferred Resendez to the position in Waterville, which she would have happily accepted. In fact, Resendez had told Walmart about her willingness to work at other Walmart stores in Maine. As a result, and after Walmart's self-imposed search period of 90 days expired, Resendez never worked for Walmart again.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and imposes a requirement that employees with disabilities be provided a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship on the employer. The ADA states that one of these accommodations can be reassignment to a vacant position.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine (EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00170 (JDL) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
"Federal law requires employers to reassign disabled employees to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort," said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District Office. "Despite this obligation, Walmart's policy refuses to take the simple step of looking beyond the store in which a disabled employee works."
The EEOC's New York district director, Kevin Berry, added, "Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law absent undue hardship. For Walmart to look beyond one store for a vacant position would cause it no hardship at all."
EEOC's New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.