PHOENIX - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that it has filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), accusing the world's largest retailer of failing to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability at its Peoria, Arizona, store. The suit is EEOC's 16th legal action nationwide against Wal-Mart for violating the employment provisions of the ADA.
EEOC's latest lawsuit alleges that Wal-Mart discriminated against Alice Rehberg by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation for her disability; Ms. Rehberg is severely limited in her ability to stand for extended periods. According to the suit, Wal-Mart refused Ms. Rehberg's request for permission to occasionally sit down while performing her duties as a People Greeter, failed to engage in the interactive process required by the ADA, and constructively discharged Ms. Rehberg from her position. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, seeks compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement, injunctive relief, and a court order requiring Wal-Mart to conduct training that will prevent further violations of the ADA.
"By now, it should be clear that employers may not flagrantly disregard laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the basis of disability," said C. Emanuel Smith, acting regional attorney of EEOC's Phoenix District Office, which filed the suit. "By denying Ms. Rehberg a reasonable accommodation, Wal-Mart limited its focus to her disability instead of her ability and success in the position. Despite representations to the contrary, Wal-Mart has consistently violated the rights of individuals with disabilities, and EEOC will hold the company accountable for doing so."
Today's suit marks EEOC's 16th court action against Wal-Mart for violating the ADA. Currently, EEOC has 11 ADA suits pending nationwide against the retail giant. Last week, Arizona District Court Judge William D. Browning ordered Wal-Mart to pay sanctions totaling $750,200 for violating key provisions of a Consent Decree it voluntarily entered into with EEOC and the Arizona Center for Disability Law resolving an ADA suit on behalf of two deaf individuals.
In addition to the monetary sanction, Judge Browning further ordered Wal-Mart to provide training it had previously agreed to provide and to prepare an explanatory television advertisement to air in major media markets in Arizona. The TV ad will state that Wal-Mart has in the past violated the ADA and refer people who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of disability to the EEOC or the Arizona Center for Disability Law.
EEOC also has won several jury verdicts against Wal-Mart in disability discrimination suits, including significant 1997 verdicts in Albuquerque, N.M. In one case, a jury found that Wal-Mart intentionally refused to hire an applicant as a cashier because he used a wheelchair, and awarded him more than $3.5 million in damages (which was subsequently reduced by the court to comply with the ADA's statutory caps). In another case, a jury awarded $157,500 to an applicant due to Wal-Mart's unlawful pre-employment inquiry and refusal to hire him because of his disability, an amputated arm. The verdict included a $100,000 punitive damage award, the largest ever levied against a company for asking an unlawful medical question under the ADA.
With regard to all employers covered by the ADA, 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 www.eeoc.gov.