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Sex discrimination and harassment were key elements of the case against Walmart.
Ned Milenkovich[Editor's note: This article was up-to-date as of press time. Since then, the story has evolved. For details, see our article:Walmart pharmacist's award slashed by $14 million.]
A federal jury in New Hampshire has decided that Walmart must pay a former pharmacist damages in excess of $31 million because it disciplined the pharmacist more frequently than it did her male coworkers. The allegations made by Maureen McPadden, a long-time veteran employee pharmacist, resonated immensely with the seated jury in a New Hampshire federal court.
McPadden was technically fired in November 2012 after losing her key to the pharmacy. She filed her complaint against Walmart in 2014.
Things came to a head in 2011, when McPadden acted on her belief that the public was at risk and that too many mistakes were being made in the pharmacy, which was located in the town of Seabrook. After complaining to the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy, McPadden subsequently complained to her employer about the same issues. Her suit alleged that nothing was done to rectify her concerns.
According to the complaint, the stress of her position became so great that she began to experience various health-related symptoms that required, among other things, sleep-aid medication to enable her to rest.
McPadden’s medical condition became so severe that her physician suggested that she take a two-week medical leave to try and recover. Upon her return to the pharmacy, she learned that a pharmacy technician had intentionally accessed her protected health information and discussed her drug therapy and health condition with other individuals who worked at the pharmacy. When she complained to her employer about the pharmacy technician, that individual was not terminated from employment but rather was reassigned to another department in the same store.
Although McPadden admitted loss of the pharmacy key, which ultimately resulted in her termination, she averred that she had followed the proper procedure in reporting the missing key. During the lawsuit, McPadden was able to show that male pharmacy employees had also lost their keys but were not terminated. Instead of their receiving immediate termination, she alleged, Walmart provided for an employee improvement pathway in the form of remedial training to which others were subjected but which was not made available to her.
The defendant Walmart maintained that it does not tolerate discrimination of any type and that none of McPadden’s allegations was related to her actual termination. The jury disagreed. In the end, the retailer moved for summary judgment, but the court allowed the case to go on to trial. Issues related to discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination were all taken up in the course of the litigation.
The jury determined that Walmart had engaged in discrimination based on McPadden’s gender that included violations of both Title VII federal law and New Hampshire laws against discrimination. In total, the jury awarded McPadden $164,093.00 in retroactive pay, $558,392.87 in prospective pay, $500,000 in compensatory damages, $15 million in punitive damages as a result of the Title VII federal claims, and $15 million in damages as a result of similar violations of New Hampshire state law claims.
Court-watchers expect Walmart to ask the judge to set aside the jury verdict or, at a minimum, to reduce the damages to a more appropriate amount. While McPadden is touting the jury decision as a victory for employees who are wronged by an employer, the retailer is taking the position that the termination is wholly unrelated to McPadden’s allegations and that the jury verdict amount is unconscionable.
The case serves as a reminder that management education on discrimination and harassment should be reinforced at all levels.
The case is styled Maureen McPadden v. Walmart Stores East LP et al, case number 1:14-cv-00475 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.