Retail Giant to Pay $750,200 in Fines, Produce TV Ad, Reinstate Deaf Worker, Provide ADA Training
PHOENIX - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that Judge William D. Browning of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona has held Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. in contempt of court and ordered the nation's largest retailer to pay $750,200 in fines, produce and air an explanatory television advertisement, and provide significant remedial relief. The Court Order charges Wal-Mart with failing to comply with a Consent Decree settling an EEOC lawsuit on behalf of two hearing-impaired employees under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
EEOC has filed 15 lawsuits against Wal-Mart stores across the country for disability discrimination under the ADA since 1994. Of that total, 10 suits are currently pending and five have been resolved including three jury verdicts favorable to plaintiffs. EEOC does not track the number of private suits filed against employers.
"It is extremely troubling that one of the nation's largest employers continues to show a reckless disregard for the statutory rights of individuals with disabilities," said Commission Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "These far-reaching court sanctions should put Wal-Mart on notice to invest its vast resources in rooting out discrimination at their stores rather than stringing along plaintiffs with agreements they do not intend to fulfill. Employers would be well served to voluntarily review their workplace practices and ensure compliance with the EEO laws."
In his ruling yesterday ordering the sanctions, Judge Browning wrote: "It is clear that Wal-Mart has failed to comply with the letter of the Consent Decree concerning the training of its staff in the requirements of the ADA and in communication methods with the hearing-impaired." The Court Order requires Wal-Mart to do the following:
In addition, the order requires Wal-Mart to pay penalties for further noncompliance with the Consent Decree and the Court Order in the amount of $150 per day for each of the 22 stores in Phoenix, Tucson, and Green Valley. A court hearing to assess Wal-Mart's compliance with the Consent Decree and the Court Order is scheduled for July 31, 2001, at 9:30 a.m.
"Wal-Mart provided no valid reason for its failure to comply with the Consent Decree, which it voluntarily entered into and which the Court approved," said C. Emanuel Smith, acting regional attorney for EEOC's Phoenix District Office, which handled the case. "The Court Order confirms that it is unacceptable for companies, particularly those of Wal-Mart's size, to ignore their own agreements to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and to conduct disability awareness training. Such measures are necessary to ensure that Wal-Mart not only hires deaf applicants, but provides them with the means to succeed."
In its contempt motion, filed on April 18, 2001, EEOC alleged that Wal-Mart failed to comply with several provisions of a court-approved Consent Decree resolving an ADA lawsuit filed by the agency's Phoenix District Office in 1998. The suit charged Wal-Mart with refusing to hire two qualified Arizonans, Jeremy Fass and William Darnell, because of their disability, deafness. The contempt motion stated, among other things, that Wal-Mart violated the Decree because of its failure to create alternative training materials for use nationwide by hearing-impaired employees. The materials included a sign-language version of its computer-based learning modules used to train entry-level employees.
EEOC's contempt motion also stated that the company admittedly failed to provide court ordered training on the ADA to its management employees. The training was designed to effectuate the ADA's protections against discrimination for hearing impaired individuals in central and southern Arizona. EEOC also maintained that Wal-Mart refused to allow the agency and the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which represented Fass and Darnell, to visit its stores to ensure it was in compliance with the Consent Decree. A hearing on the contempt motion was held by Judge Browning on May 29, 2001.
Since July 1992, when Title I of the ADA became effective, EEOC has obtained approximately $325 million under the ADA on behalf of more than 20,000 individuals through its enforcement efforts - - including settlements, conciliations, mediation, and litigation. In addition, EEOC has obtained non- monetary benefits for over 10,000 individuals, including reasonable accommodation, policy changes, training and education, job referrals, union membership, and the posting of EEO notices at job sites.
Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, discharge, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms and conditions of employment. In addition to enforcing the ADA, EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on its Web site at http://www.eeoc.gov.