The nation’s largest chain retailer is facing a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a former employee with Down syndrome, who had worked for the company for 15 years prior.
Of course, disability discrimination isn’t limited to those who have this diagnosis, but it is one of the more visible conditions. Most people can tell right away when someone has the condition, and it’s often used as a basis to deny employment or refuse advancement opportunities – even in cases where the individual is qualified for the essential functions of the job. In fact, employment discrimination of people with Down syndrome was common until fairly recently. Much of these discriminatory actions are based on misinformation and prejudice.
Down syndrome is a genetic chromosome 21 disorder that causes a wide range of developmental delays and disabilities. Those who have Down syndrome share a distinct facial appearance, and generally all have some level of intellectual disability and developmental delays. They may also suffer from thyroid or heart disease. But again, it is a range. Although some with Down syndrome suffer profound disabilities, others are more than capable to work and live independently. Companies that discriminate against these workers solely on the basis of their condition can face legal consequences, including a court order to pay both compensatory and punitive damages.
In this case, according to The Manitowac Herald Times Reporter, the EEOC allegedly filed the lawsuit after she was disciplined by for missing work when her schedule was arbitrarily changed by a manager after 15 years of working the same schedule. Her normal shift during those 15 years had her working from noon until 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. But then, the new schedule required her to work longer shifts. Because of her disability, she could not adapt to these alterations in her routine.
Plaintiff’s sister and guardian became involved after her sister was fired. Her sister was reportedly told that managers could not change plaintiff’s schedule because it was part of a computerized system that could not be altered. The manager also informed plaintiff’s sister he wouldn’t be re-hiring the woman because, “We have to treat her just like everyone else.” The truth is, companies have to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities who are able to perform essential functions of the job. The only exception would be if the company can show that to do so would create an undue hardship. This scenario does not fit that criteria.
Plaintiff’s sister then contacted an attorney, and explained her sister’s Down syndrome made it very difficult to change her routines. She explained her sister has been “devastated” by the firing, and she still talks about her job and how much she misses it.
The company, in a prepared statement, said it is “sensitive” to plaintiff’s situation, but that she needed to complete her assigned shift and she repeatedly failed to do so.
The disability discrimination lawsuit asks the company to reinstate the plaintiff to her previous post, with appropriate back pay and compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages for willful or wanton violation of the worker’s rights. The claim also seeks a permanent injunction against the retailer to ensure there are provisions in place to prevent such discrimination in the future.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Walmart sued for Manitowoc Down syndrome firing, Jan. 18, 2017, By Alisa Schafer, USA Today
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