Giant Retailer Refused to Accommodate Disabled Employee with Reassignment to a Nearby Store, Federal Agency Charged
BANGOR, Maine - Walmart Inc. will pay $80,000 and implement nationwide changes to its disability reassignment policy to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Walmart violated federal law by failing to reassign a long- term employee at its Augusta, Maine location to vacant positions in its Waterville or Thomaston, Maine locations after she became disabled. The lawsuit alleged that Veronica Resendez, who had worked for Walmart since 1999, developed a disability that, according to Walmart, prevented her from continuing to work in a 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 and one in Thomaston. Walmart's policy, however, was to search for open positions only in the store where the employee had been working. Because of this, Walmart did not transfer Ms. Resendez to the positions in Waterville or Thomaston, which she would have happily accepted. As a result, Ms. 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 is reassignment to a vacant position.
The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00170-JDL) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in Bangor after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
As part of the settlement, which was approved by the Court yesterday, Walmart will change its policy so associates with a disability that are eligible for job reassignment under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation can request that Walmart search at up to five stores beyond an associate's then-current store location ("home store") or in the home store's entire market. The revised procedures will be applied to all hourly field associates working in Walmart retail stores in the United States.
Walmart is also enjoined from failing to offer to reassign a qualified individual with a disability to a vacant position. Finally, Ms. Resendez will receive payment of $80,000.
"Federal law requires employers to reassign employees with a disability to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort," said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District Office. "We are very pleased that this lawsuit, which arose from a single employee's complaint, resulted in the nationwide change we sought, and we applaud Walmart for making that change."
EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry added, "Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law absent undue hardship. This case demonstrates that looking beyond the home store for a vacant position is not an undue hardship."
The 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.