Wal-Mart Settles 14-Year Old Disability Lawsuit With Former Pharmacist

Employers often bemoan the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), citing the law’s difficult-to-understand compliance requirements. And most employment lawyers and discrimination attorneys would agree that the ADA can be more challenging in its application than, for example, Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, or other protected characteristics. 

Whereas an employer is in “compliance” with Title VII so long as it does not take adverse employment actions against employees because of a protected characteristic, the ADA requires that employers take affirmative steps towards assisting employees who are able to perform the functions of the job but who may need a reasonable accommodation to do the job as well as other employees without a disability.

But today, most savvy employers understand the tremendous value that the ADA provides to society as a whole and are able to appreciate the law, despite what can seem like a daunting set of requirements and prohibitions that the law entails.

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Wal-Mart pharmacist, Glenda Allen, was shot during a robbery at her second job. Doctors estimated her chance of survival as very poor.  But survive she did.  Doctors concluded she may never walk again.  But walk she did.  In the end, she suffered permanent injury to her spinal cord and required the use of a cane as a result of an abnormal gait caused by the shooting.

When she sought to return to work, Wal-Mart fired her.

Wal-Mart’s position was that Allen could no longer do her job–with or without reasonable accommodations.  Allen was not paraplegic, though, she had at least limited mobility.

The litigation was unusually protracted–she initially filed suit in 1994.  After losing on summary judgment, Allen persisted until settling with the retail giant yesterday for $250,000. 

This case is a difficult one for me understand, at least strategically.  Granted, in 1994, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which governs accommodations employers must make for employees with disabilities, was hardly the piece of legislation that it is today. Barely 4 years old at the time, the ADA was not understood by many and feared by most. 

But today, some 14 years later, the amount of the settlement seems a pittance when compared to the legal fees that surely must have been incurred for more than a decade of litigation.  Additionally, Wal-Mart is sophisticated enough to appreciate the true value that the ADA provides to the business world by being able to offer equal employment to the disabled.  It strikes me as odd that the global mega-store would not have settled long ago, even if only to “save face” with the disabled community. 

[H/T Coral & Opal: Wal-Mart Coughs Up $250k in Pharmacy Discrimination Case]

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