Nancy Stack worked for a Walmart store in Illinois. She was also a cancer survivor and had some residual physical limitations.
Cancer unquestionably meets the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA also requires that upon request, an employer “accommodate” an employee’s disability, as long as such accommodation does not create an “undue hardship.” Accordingly, Ms. Stack asked Walmart to give her a modified schedule and to also arrange for her to have a chair in her work area.
Ms. Stack alleged that although Walmart had initially agreed to this, it revoked this agreement “for no stated reason.” She no longer got the schedule change, and she had to fetch her own chair from elsewhere in the store (which was difficult because of her physical limitations). And as if this wasn’t enough, Ms. Stack also alleged that a co-worker harassed her by calling her a “cripple” and a “chemo brain.”
Ms. Stack sued Walmart, for both failing to accommodate her and allowing the co-worker cruelty to happen. The case was settled last December, with Walmart agreeing to pay $75,000.00 to settle Ms. Stack’s claim.
There is a great deal that we will never know about this case. In particular, we will never know if Ms. Stack would have been able to prove all of her claims in court. She did make it through the first hurdle, though – the EEOC investigated her claim and thought there was enough there to merit filing a lawsuit on her behalf. In addition, it seems to me that $75,000.00 is quite a bit to pay if this were just a “nuisance” claim.
But this case resonated with me. I investigated EEOC claims for many years, and I saw numerous situations where although it could not be proven that the employer technically violated the law, there was seemingly needless misery on all sides. This was often brought about by the parties simply refusing to listen to each other. Difficult as this may sometimes be, many employers have learned the hard way that listening to their employees can be much easier (and cheaper) than having to listen to EEOC investigators.
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