I recently read an article about the largest chain store Walmart, and their loss in a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin when a jury sided with a sales associate who has Down syndrome and alleged that the company fired her because of her disability.
The Walmart employee worked for Walmart for almost 16 years before she was fired in 2015 due to excessive absenteeism. According to the lawsuit, brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the employee’s work schedule changed after Walmart implemented a new computerized system in 2014, which created significant difficulty for her schedule.
The employee’s condition requires that she maintain a rigid schedule of daily activities, and that she requested that she be allowed to resume her prior work schedule of noon to 4 p.m, because if she did not eat dinner at the same time every night, she would get sick, the lawsuit said. Instead of returning her to the old schedule, Walmart fired her, and refused to rehire her when she requested it. The jury in federal court awarded the Walmart employee more than $125 million in punitive damages on Thursday. The jury also awarded her $150,000 in compensatory damages.
Was there anyway that this could have been avoided? Walmart has had its fair share of use of technology, dating all the way back from the 1970’s with its first used of electronic cash registers. From there, the company has used technologies ranging from building the first terminal store, to use of bar codes for scanning with POS systems, to chooses the Internet for data exchange with thousands of its global suppliers. In 2014, Walmart instituted a computerized scheduling system, which the company said was based on customer traffic and was designed to ensure that enough people were working when the store was busiest. With the new computerized system, the fired Walmart employee was expected to work from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., rather than her previous schedule of noon to 4 p.m. The abrupt change represented a significant hardship for the employee, who has Down syndrome and thrives on routine, and repeatedly told a manager that she wanted her old schedule back. Walmart refused to switch the employee back to her old schedule at the store, which was open 24 hours a day and had more than 300 employees. Although Walmart used their new computerized system, a jury found that Walmart had failed to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, and failed to rehire her because she has a disability.
Leaving in a more digitized/computerized world – things like computerized schedules seem to hut big companies more than they help. But I think Walmart can bounce back from this by creating a more customized computerized system, that will allow people’s schedules to be automatically changed based off their employees accommodation. Joining a tech team that could implement this be huge for Walmart so that a). they could accommodate their employees and would not have to endure a large trial and payout such as this, and could also help with employee retention, and b) they could possible sell this to other big corporations for a profit.
CBSnews.com (19 July 2021). Jury orders Walmart to pay $125 million after it fired worker with Down syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/walmart-lawsuit-down-syndrome-employee-fired-fined-125-million/
Wailgum, Thomas. CBSnews.com (17 October 2007). 45 Years of Wal-Mart History: A Technology Time Line. Retrieved https://www.cio.com/article/2437873/45-years-of-wal-mart-history–a-technology-time-line.html