Walmart kept a disabled employee on unpaid leave for three years. He is $70,000 in debt

Walmart refused to let a disabled employee use an electric shopping cart, forcing him to go on unpaid leave in South Carolina, according to a federal lawsuit.

The retail giant kept Luis Quiñones, an amputee who was born without half of his right leg, on unpaid leave for three years, according to the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the lawsuit, Walmart initially allowed Quiñones to use an electric cart from December 2019 to July 2020 to help him perform certain tasks at the store in Aiken, about a 60-mile drive southwest of Columbia.

About seven months later, Walmart “rescinded” Quiñones’ use of the cart and told him that motorized shopping carts were for customers only, the EEOC said in a March 7 news release.

Meanwhile, his coworkers could use the carts if they were temporarily injured, the EEOC said.

Now Walmart has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle its disability discrimination lawsuit, the agency announced.

The company will pay Quiñones $45,102.08 for lost wages and $24,897.92 in punitive damages, according to a consent decree filed March 7.

In a statement to McClatchy News on March 8, Walmart said, “We are pleased to have resolved this matter with the EEOC and Mr. Quinones.”

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and provide reasonable accommodations to thousands of employees,” the company added.

Walmart places employee on ‘indefinite unpaid leave’

Quiñones was no longer allowed to use an electric shopping cart shortly after a new HR representative started working at the Walmart in Aiken, according to the lawsuit accusing the company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The HR representative told Quiñones that in order to continue using the cart, he needed to submit an accommodation request through Walmart’s Accommodation Service Center, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, on July 15, 2020, Walmart told Quiñones that he was no longer qualified to perform his duties as a sales associate.

That day, the HR representative told him he couldn’t use the shopping cart and suggested he could work as a self-checkout host instead, the lawsuit said.

However, according to the EEOC, he could not do this work because of his disability.

“Walmart failed to provide an alternative reasonable accommodation that would allow Quiñones to continue working, and instead placed him on indefinite unpaid leave,” the EEOC said.

Walmart will offer man a new job

Walmart agreed to offer Quiñones a job at another company store in Aiken, according to the consent decree.

“The EEOC will aggressively pursue all appropriate remedies to provide full relief to victims of discrimination,” Nicholas Wolfmeyer, a trial attorney for the EEOC, said in a statement. “This often includes advocating for an employee to be reinstated, which will happen in this case.”

As part of the two-year consent decree, Walmart must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees with regard to walking and standing at the other Aiken store, according to the EEOC.

The company will also train the store’s employees each year, post a notice at the location and provide the EEOC with compliance reports, the agency said.

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