Walmart seeks new trial over firing of worker with Down syndrome awarded $125 million

MANITOWOC, Wis. — Walmart Inc. is seeking a new trial in a discrimination case over the firing of a nearly 16-year employee with Down Syndrome, claiming the company was unaware of the link between her disability and attendance issues that prompted her dismissal.

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A grand jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin, determined in July 2021 that Marlo Spaeth’s 2015 firing by the retail giant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, awarding her $150 million in punitive damages and another $150,000 in compensatory damages.

>> Related: Wisconsin woman with Down syndrome wins $125M discrimination settlement against Walmart

A Tuesday court filing argued, however, that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represented Spaeth in the wrongful termination case, failed to prove that the big-box retailer discriminated against her “with malice or with reckless indifference to [her] federally protected rights,” CNBC reported.

In turn, Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is asking that the damages ordered paid to Spaeth be nixed and a new trial granted.

Neither Walmart nor the EEOC have issued comment since the filing.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, who presided over Spaeth’s case, in February lowered the court’s $125 million punitive damages award to $300,000, the maximum allowed under federal law, Reuters reported.

According to court filings, Spaeth worked a regular noon-to-4 p.m. shift at a Manitowoc, Wisconsin, store for 15 years, but when Walmart implemented a computerized scheduling system in 2014, her hours began to vary.

The original lawsuit stated that Spaeth’s condition requires that she maintain a rigid daily schedule, including eating dinner at the same time every night to avoid falling ill. Spaeth argued in the suit that Walmart’s actions and refusal to accommodate her request to alter the new schedule forced her to miss meals and made her sick on multiple occasions, The Herald Times Reporter reported.

Spaeth was fired after missing shifts or leaving early on more than a dozen occasions, Reuters reported.