Retail Giant Suspended and Failed to Accommodate Longtime Deaf Employee With Visual Impairment, Federal Agency Charges
MADISON, Wis. - Wal-Mart violated federal law when it failed to accommodate a longtime employee because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Paul Reina, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and visually impaired, worked as a cart pusher in the Beloit, Wis., Walmart store for 16 years before a new manager started at the store. In his first month, a new store manager suspended Reina and forced him to resubmit medical paperwork in order to keep his reasonable accommodations. Prior to the suspension, Reina performed his job with the accommodation of assistance from a job coach provided by an advocacy organization. Reina's conditions had not changed.
When Reina and his legal guardian submitted new medical paperwork, requesting the continued accommodation of assistance from a job coach, the store cut off communication, the EEOC said. The store's insistence that Reina take a suspension until a new but unnecessary request for accommodations was finalized, coupled with the company's failure to communicate, made a return to work impossible for Reina, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-739), in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit asks the court to order Wal-Mart to pay Reina appropriate back and front pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction enjoining Wal-Mart from failing to provide reasonable accommodations for disability in the future.
"Employers have a legal obligation under federal law to work with employees who need accommodations for disabilities," said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District. "When companies shirk that obligation, the EEOC will fight to uphold the rights of people with disabilities."
Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC's Chicago District, said, "It is the employer's responsibility to make sure that all managers are trained on the laws against disability discrimination. Effectively denying a request or a reasonable accommodation to someone with a 16-year track record of successful work is illegal discrimination."
The EEOC's Chicago District is responsible for investigating charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
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.