Jury Hits Walmart with $5.5 M Penalty for Retaliating Against Employee Complaint

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and more. But the laws go beyond simply saying that this type of discrimination can’t take place: it also creates a remedy for those who complain about discrimination and are then punished for doing so. This is exactly what happened in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut last week when a jury heard complaints from former Walmart managers who claimed that they were fired for having complained about discrimination. In the first case to be heard, the jury determined that the employee in question had not been discriminated against, but they also ruled that Walmart had indeed retaliated against the employee for having alleged discrimination, and they awarded the employee $5.5 million in damages.

The plaintiff in the first case was Michael Barham. Barham had been a market asset protection manager for the discount chain in the state of Connecticut. He claimed that the company had taken actions to eliminate African American managers from their staff and hidden their motivation by pretending that they were eliminating the jobs entirely. According to his complaint, “Some of the alleged ‘eliminated’ jobs reappeared soon thereafter, but were filled by others, who were white or not African American and were less qualified than the plaintiffs were for those jobs. After the African American managers were ushered out of the company, similar jobs soon reopened. Nevertheless, these three plaintiffs were not allowed to interview for those positions. Within months it became clear that the alleged job eliminations were merely a pretext for Walmart to rid itself of African American managers, particularly those who truthfully reported discrimination.” The claim pointed out that in 2010 three out of every four of Walmart’s Connecticut-based market-level managers were let go, while the same ratio was not true of managers who were white.

An important point in the retaliation case was that when Mr. Barham had heard that the terminations were based on race, he reapplied for his old position but a non-African American was given the position. Though the jury did not agree that discrimination had played a role in his firing, they concurred that he had faced retaliation for having complained. The award from the jury provided $5 million in punitive damages and $550,000 in noneconomic damages, with economic damages yet to be determined by the judge who heard the case.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the most frequently heard basis for discrimination cases is retaliation against employees who assert their right to be free of employment discrimination. Whether you have complained about discrimination or harassment, both are considered protected activities and if you are punished for having done so then you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against those who acted against you. An experienced employment discrimination attorney can provide you with more information on your rights. Call us today to discuss your case.

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