Weeks ago, a New Hampshire jury ordered Walmart Stores, Inc. to pay $31.2 million to the plaintiff in a discrimination and wrongful termination case. This substantial verdict has captured national headlines, and its message to employers may be significant.
Background on the Discrimination & Wrongful Termination Case
This case (McPadden v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, Case No. 14-00475) centers on allegations that Walmart wrongly terminated a pharmacist due to her gender and disability, as well as out of retaliation for her reporting alleged safety violations.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff had worked as a pharmacist at Walmart in Seabrook, New Hampshire for more than 13 years, when she was fired in November 2012. Leading up to the termination, the plaintiff had reportedly received poor performance reviews for tardiness and attendance issues. She was ultimately fired when she lost the pharmacy key.
Walmart has maintained that the firing was the result of performance-related issues, not discrimination or retaliation against the plaintiff.
As revealed during the five-day trial, however:
- The plaintiff filed a complaint with the State Pharmacy Board in 2012, reporting that understaffing issues at her pharmacy were contributing to medication mistakes, putting patients at an unnecessary risk of injury and complications.
- The plaintiff’s privacy was violated. Specifically, when the plaintiff took a two-week leave (reportedly due to job-related stress that resulted in her developing anxiety and depression), a colleague reportedly told other employees that the plaintiff had a “nervous breakdown” after seeing a prescription her doctor had called into the pharmacy.
- Losing the pharmacy key was not a terminable offense for at least one other employee. A male employee who had also lost a pharmacy key in the past was not terminated, revealing possible gender discrimination against the female plaintiff.
The Verdict & Its Impacts
Following the three hours of deliberation, the federal jury ultimately ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her $1.2 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages ($15 million in punitive damages for the state claim, and another $15 million in punitive damages for the federal claim).
Although Walmart is expected to appeal this verdict, the massive amount of punitive damages awarded by the jury in this case seems to relay an important message to American employers regarding:
- Disciplining employees not arbitrarily but according to consistent, non-discriminatory policies.
- Employees’ privacy rights, particularly when it comes to medical records
Commenting on the verdict, the plaintiff has stated:
I honestly feel the jurors listened intently… I really feel they wanted to send a message that the little guy has a voice, that Wal-Mart did something wrong.
Contact the Los Angeles Employment Lawyer at Broslavsky & Weinman, LLP
If you have been the target of discrimination, wrongful termination and/or retaliation at work, contact a Los Angeles employment lawyer at Broslavsky & Weinman, LLP to find out more about your rights and options for recourse.
Call our firm at (310) 575-2550 or email us using the contact form on this page to set up an initial free consultation with one of our lawyers.