In the 1990s, before Wal-Mart discovered the environment, the company used to prominently display its charitable giving to organizations helping the disabled. Photos of disabled children were conspicuously placed in its Annual Reports to stockholders. But at the workplace, the company was discriminating against some of its own workers with disabilities. On February 24, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Wal-Mart employee with cerebral palsy had sued Wal-Mart in 2002 for discrimination against the disabled under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. In 2005 a jury ordered Wal-Mart to pony up $7.5 million to Patrick Brady, 21, who was hired in the pharmacy store at the Wal-Mart in Centereach, New York on Long Island. Brady soon found himself reassigned to rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot, an picking up trash. The U.S. District Court jury only needed one day to reach their verdict, finding Wal-Mart guilty of discriminating against Brady by transferring him, and by asking him impermissible questions on a pre-employment questionnaire. Wal-Mart was ordered to compensate Brady for $5 million in punitive damages, and $2.5 million in compensatory damages. Brady’s lawyer said the $5 million punitive fine was likely to be substantially reduced to the $600,000 federal limit on punitive awards. Quicker than you can say “disability discrimination always,” Wal-Mart announced that it would appeal the jury verdict. The Associated Press quoted Wal-Mart as saying, “We appreciate the service of the jurors but disagree with their decision. We feel very strongly that Mr. Brady did not suffer discrimination in our store.” This week, roughly three and a half years later, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected Wal-Mart’s appeals and confirmed that Mr. Brady is entitled to one of the largest disability discrimination awards for a single person in history. The original jury ruled that Wal-Mart had failed to help Brady find a reasonable accommodation for his disability. After waiting six years for justice, Brady told the media he was “very proud to be an American. Even if it takes a long time, our legal system helps people like me stand up against big companies like Wal-Mart.” The lead law firm that represented Brady, Thompson Wigdor & Gilly, said that the jury awards were “well-reasoned and thoughtful. The jury recognized from the evidence that we presented that Wal-Mart… acted unlawfully and that Mr. Brady suffered severe emotional distress because of their actions. Although Wal-Mart fought this to the bitter end, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has finally held Wal-Mart accountable for its discriminatory practices and vindicated Mr. Brady’s long struggle to stand up for his federally protected human rights as a person with disabilities.”
Sprawl-Busters predicted in 2005 that this case would drag on several more years in the courts. Wal-Mart has had a revolving door relationship with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. In a case against two deaf workers, Wal-Mart asked illegal questions in a pre-application process — just as they did in this case. It would be refreshing if Wal-Mart would just once agree that it’s people made a mistake, and not make the victim fight them for years. Instead of settling this case quietly, Wal-Mart took it to the headlines, protesting that “Mr. Brady did not suffer discrimination in our store.” No, he suffered more than just discrimination. He suffered through what must have seemed like an interminable wait for this case to be brought to justice. Wal-Mart shareholders will now pay for this large judgment, and the image of Wal-Mart exploiting a disabled worker illlustratres how Wal-Mart fails to live up to the promise it makes to all its associates: to “respect the individual.” Patrick Brady never got respect. He had to wonder for six years if all this was going to be worth it. In the end, a man with a disabling disease took on one of the most powerful corporations in America — and won. Instead of pushing carts and picking up trash in the parking lot, Patrick Brady has left Wal-Mart with a lot of trash of its own to pick up, and a very costly court judgment in the eyes of the public.