A lawsuit against Wal-Mart has been filed in the US District Court for Nebraska by a woman from Fremont who says the company failed to provide her with a work environment that accomodated her disability. Jamie Fritz, who worked in the Wal-Mart jewelry department, was fired by Wal-Mart on February 12, 1998. Here is her story of how she was treated by her employer: “I began my employment with Wal-Mart towards mid Jan of 1998. At the time of my hiring they were made aware that I had a spinal fusion that limited my mobility, and that I was five and a half months pregnant. One day at the beginning of Feb. 1998 I sat down briefly to change a watch battery and my jewelry manager told me that I needed a doctor’s note to do that. I got the doctor’s. note that stated that I should sit as needed due to my spinal fusion. I brought this note to work on my next scheduled day, and was allowed to work that evening. The next day I received a call from my jewelry manager stating that I didn’t need to come in that evening until my note was verified. The following day I received another call stating for me to come in asap. Upon my arrival I was sent back to the main office where two managers explained to me that it did not look professional for me to sit to change a watch battery, and that they could not accomodate my need. I was told that if my disability were to ever go away I could have my job back. I was then asked to sign papers stating that I willingly gave up my job. Of course I refused their request and left the store. In the months following my wrongful termination, I was constantly harrassed whenever I went in there. The Oct. 26th.incident was what really upset me. I was followed through the store, then harrassed upon trying to exit. When I knew the lady at the door had seen me pay for my purchases since I was only 4 checkstands away from her. Then when she asked to see my receipt and then didn’t even look through my bags, that really set me off.” On May 17, 2000, Jamie Fritz filed her lawsuit, under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She says in her action that Wal-Mart “failed to provide reasonable accomodations…and discriminated against her solely based on her disability by refusing to provide…a work environment free from prolonged standing and repeated bending and stooping.” She is suing the company for future and past loss of compensation, compensatory damages for mental anguish, and punitive damages.
Wal-Mart says that their corporate philosophy towards workers is based on the concept of “respect for the individual”. As one Wal-Mart employee once said to me: “I’d like to meet that individual, because I certainly never got any respect.” This description of what happened to Jamie Fritz sounds like a story out of a high school gym class: unbending authority dominates individuality. Jamie made the mistake of having to sit down. While she was replacing a customer’s battery, Wal-Mart apparently decided to replace her. Perhaps all it would have taken was a special chair to accomodate Jamie’s needs, but it was Wal-Mart that could not bend. Instead the company pulled the chair from under her and sent her home. Sometimes you can learn alot about a big corporation by the “little” things they do to their own people.