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Wal-Mart settles EEOC discrimination lawsuit.

WHEN WAL-MART STORES Inc. of Bentonville agreed on Dec. 23 to pay $220,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, it wasn't its first run-in with the EEOC.

Over the years, the EEOC has filed several lawsuits against Wal-Mart for violating the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Wal-Mart has paid out at least $7 million in the past two years to settle some of the cases.

In the most recent case settled, Jamey Stern was pregnant in 1991 when she applied for a job at Wal-Mart in Green Valley, Ariz., according to an EEOC news release.

After Stern told the store's assistant manager that she was pregnant, he told her to "come back after she had the baby," the EEOC said.

Once Stern learned that refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant is against the law, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and the Arizona Civil Rights Division.

The EEOC investigated and filed the lawsuit on Stern's behalf.

Wal-Mart agreed to settled the 1994 case, after years of the lawsuit crawling through the court system. In addition to the $220,000 judgment, Wal-Mart agreed to engage in comprehensive training concerning the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

"This was an isolated Cynthia Illick, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said of the pregnancy case.

Sally C. Shanley, the EEOC trial attorney who handled the case, said in the news release, "[The settlement] sends a message both to employers and employees that there is recourse for discrimination in the workplace and that the Commission will persist in seeking justice."

Although the EEOC has been hounding Wal-Mart for years, in the past year there haven't been any new filings.

"There has been a strong spirit of cooperation between Wal-Mart and EEOC. We have worked very hard to establish a partnership with EEOC and want to do more than what is required of us by law," Illick said.

But that hasn't always been the case.

In June 2001, an Arizona District Court judge ordered Wal-Mart to pay sanctions totaling $750,200 for violating key provisions of a consent decree it entered into with EEOC and the Arizona Center for Disability Law in 2000 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of two men who weren't hired because they were deaf.

Wal-Mart had agreed to create alternative training materials for use by hearing-impaired employees nationwide and provide court-ordered training on the ADA to its management employees.

The judge found that Wal-Mart violated the consent decree and ordered the company to film a 60-second television commercial to air in Arizona, saying it had violated the ADA and list a phone number of the EEOC so those people who believe they were discriminated could call.

"It is extremely troubling that one of the nation's largest employers continues to show a reckless disregard for the statutory rights of individuals with disabilities," said EEOC Commission chairwoman Ida L. Castro in a June 2001 news release. "These far-reaching court sanctions should put Wal-Mart on notice to invest its vast resources in rooting out discrimination at their stores rather than stringing along plaintiffs with agreements they do not intend to fulfill."

Since then Wal-Mart apparently has changed.

In December 2001, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $6.8 million to settle 13 lawsuits in 11 states that alleged Wal-Mart's pre-employment questionnaire violated the ADA.

The lawsuits said that between 1994 and 1998, Wal-Mart sought disability-related information from applicants through their "Matrix of Essential Job Functions" questionnaire before making conditional offers of employment, a violation of the federal disability law.

As part of the decree, Wal-Mart has abolished the unlawful pre-employment questionnaire and agreed to add new or revised policies.

"Wal-Mart has been a very hands-on participant in drawing up this agreement and eliminating barriers for applicants and employees with disabilities," said EEOC's Cari M. Dominguex in a news release.

"Wal-Mart's willingness to enter into this global settlement, which includes significant nationwide training on the ADA and job offers, clearly demonstrates Wal-Mart's commitment to the ADA," Mary Jo O'Neill, chief negotiator of the consent decree, said in the news release. O'Neill works in the EEOC'S Phoenix District Office.
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Title Annotation:Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Comment:Wal-Mart settles EEOC discrimination lawsuit.(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
Author:Friedman, Mark
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 6, 2003
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