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Walmart alters disability reassignment policy to settle suit

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Walmart has agreed to change its national policy for reassigning disabled workers to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Maine. The settlement requires Walmart to offer disabled workers a vacant position in up to five nearby stores instead of just an employee’s current location. Walmart also agreed to pay $80,000 to a worker who was not offered the opportunity to transfer to another store.

The lawsuit, in federal court in Bangor, was filed on behalf of a longtime worker who developed a disability that prevented her from continuing her job as a sales associate. Walmart determined that the only positions that were suitable for her were as a greeter or fitting room associate. Such jobs were available at Walmart stores in Waterville and Thomaston, but not at the worker’s store in Augusta. She parted ways with the retailer in 2014.

The lawsuit contended Walmart violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by declining to offer jobs at other locations. “Federal law requires employers to reassign employees with a disability to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort,” Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s district office in New York, said in a statement.

Walmart didn’t acknowledged wrongdoing under a consent decree, signed by a federal judge on Wednesday, but did agree to changes its practices. Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said Saturday that a change of policy was already in the works and was being tested through a pilot program before the settlement was announced late Friday. The new policy will be rolled out to Walmart stores nationwide in February, he said.

“We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind,” he said. “We have thousands of associates who perform their jobs with reasonable accommodations. That includes job reassignments.”

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