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Walmart is seeking a new trial in a case involving the firing of a longtime employee with Down syndrome. In July, a jury found that Walmart wrongfully fired employee Marlo Spaeth and awarded her damages.
In a new court filing Tuesday night, Walmart said it was unaware of the connection between Spaeth’s disability and his difficulties adjusting to a new work schedule, which ultimately led to his firing. Spaeth was a store associate at a Walmart SuperCenter in Wisconsin for nearly 16 years.
The big-box retailer further claims that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represented Spaeth in the case, did not show evidence that Walmart “discriminated against” her maliciously or with reckless indifference to [her] rights protected by the federal government. “The company is asking that the damages ordered against Spaeth be reversed and the trial restarted.
Walmart and the EEOC did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The request for a new trial extends a years-long battle between Walmart and the EEOC in the disability discrimination lawsuit. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, lost the disability lawsuit against the EEOC last year. The federal agency took the case on Spaeth’s behalf.
A jury and judge found that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing Spaeth rather than adjusting his schedule as a “reasonable accommodation” to his disability. Spaeth’s schedule was changed when the Walmart store began using a computerized scheduling system.
Spaeth and her sister, Amy Jo Stevenson, repeatedly asked supervisors to reinstate her old schedule, but Walmart refused, according to the lawsuit. Walmart began counting the days Spaeth left the store early and then fired her for excessive absenteeism.
A federal jury ordered the company in July to pay more than $125 million in damages in the lawsuit — one of the highest in the federal agency’s history for a single victim. Those damages were reduced to $300,000, the maximum allowed by federal law.
In late February, a federal judge ordered Walmart to rehire Spaeth and pay him more than $50,000 in back wages.
Stevenson told CNBC last week that his sister would soon return to work at the Walmart store. She said the pair are firming up Spaeth’s debut date.
For her sister, Stevenson said the decision was easy – even though she had been laid off by Walmart and hadn’t worked at the store since 2015. She said her sister was eager to get her Walmart vest back on and missed the clients.
“She’s going to walk into it proud as a peacock,” Stevenson said at the time. “That’s who she is. She’s a Walmart associate. To be like this again will make her whole in some sense.”
Stevenson learned of Walmart’s filing when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday. She declined to comment.
This story is developing. Please check for updates.