On January 24, 2004, Sprawl- Busters reported that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunties Commission (EEOC) had filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, accusing the giant retailer of refusing to hire a job applicant who had cerebral palsy. The lawsuit claimed that Steve Bradley, Jr. applied for a job at a Wal-Mart in Richmond, Missouri, which is 40 miles from Kansas City. Bradley, who has CP, must use crutches and a wheelchair to get around. The EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. That case is back in the news this week, when a federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit alleging that Wal-Mart violated the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to hire a job applicant with cerebral palsy. After the case was filed in 2004, it wasn’t until August of 2005 that a U.S. District Judge in Kansas City granted Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the suit. The judge ruled that Bradley’s mobility limitations made him unsuitable for the positions of greeter and cashier. But this week, the Kansas City Star reports that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that significant facts remained in dispute, voiding the lower’s court’s summary judgment. “We’re obviously delighted with the decision,” said a regional attorney for the federal agency bringing the case. “We presented substantial evidence that Mr. Bradley was totally qualified to be either a greeter or a cashier, and it’s really up to the jury to decide that question, not the court, as was done here.” The 8th Circuit’s ruling was significant because, for the first time, when an employer claims it didn’t hire a disabled applicant because the applicant was a threat to the safety of himself or others, the burden is on the employer — not the applicant — to prove it. This is not Wal-Mart’s first disability lawsuit, In 2001, Wal-Mart and the EEOC reached a $6.8 million consent decree, which ended 13 disability-related lawsuits. Steve Bradley, Jr. first applied to be a greeter/customer assistant position at Wal-Mart in July 2000. He reapplied in 2001, so Bradley has been waiting for his day in court for nearly seven years. He uses forearm crutches for short walks and a wheelchair for longer distances. He is unable to stand for more than 15 minutes, but can climb stairs and get on and off a stool. He can write and hold things and lift heavy objects from his wheelchair. When he went to Wal-Mart for an interview in his wheelchair, he was rejected for the job. Wal-Mart, claimed that Bradley wasn’t qualified to perform the essential functions of either greeter or cashier. But the EEOC, said that Bradley could do either job with reasonable accommodation.
The 8th Circuit ruled that Wal-Mart had offered “no evidence that Bradley cannot perform the essential functions of the greeter and cashier positions with reasonable accommodation.” The court found that the reasons Wal-Mart gave for not hiring Bradley — limited availability and lack of a job history — were just a way of avoiding the disability issue. The court said an employer who claims a workers poses a “direct threat” has the burden of proof. Wal-Mart, never demonstrated how Bradley, “using a wheelchair or other similar device, poses any more of a threat than Wal-Mart customers who shop using such devices.” Now Bradley will get his day in court, but it is likely that Wal-Mart and the EEOC will reach a settlement out of court, because these kinds of stories generate negative headlines for Wal-Mart, which they desperately want to avoid. For similar stories, search Newsflash by “EEOC”.