RUTLAND — A local woman with cerebral palsy is suing Walmart, alleging store officials failed to make accommodations for her to work as a department manager and then retaliated against her when she raised concerns.
Lisa Velez, who started working at Walmart in Rutland in 1998, sued this week for unspecified monetary damages.
Her lawsuit alleges Walmart violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Vermont statute on fair employment practices.
James Levins, a Rutland attorney representing Velez, did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.
Walmart, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, has more than 11,000 stores around the world, including six in Vermont: in Rutland, Bennington, Berlin, Williston, St. Albans and Derby.
“We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind in our stores. We have thousands of associates who perform their jobs with reasonable accommodations,” Regan Dickens, director of national media relations for Walmart, said in an email Thursday. “We haven’t had an opportunity to review the allegations yet, but will do so and respond appropriately with the court.”
Velez, according to the filing, was born with cerebral palsy, which limits use of her left hand, arm, leg, ankle and foot. “This causes Lisa Velez significant limitation in the major life activities of lifting, holding, climbing, walking and balance,” the federal lawsuit states. “Walmart is aware of Lisa Velez’s disability.”
In July 2015, the filing states, store officials in Rutland promoted her to department manager for toys, stationery and crafts. The duties of that position, according to the lawsuit, include climbing a 12-foot ladder to retrieve and store items.
“Shortly after assuming this position, Lisa Velez realizes that her disability limited her ability to perform these job functions,” Levins wrote in the lawsuit. “Lisa Velez is afraid that she would fall and hurt herself or others, or drop merchandise.”
She continued in the job trying to complete the tasks, but because of her disability, the attorney wrote, it took her a long time to climb the ladder and lift items.
In September 2015, the lawsuit states, she told the store manager that she struggled with the climbing and lifting requirements of the job, and asked to be transferred to a new position.
The store manager, identified only as “TK,” told Velez she needed to be in the position for six months before a transfer could be considered, according to the lawsuit. Velez was told “to give it a chance,” the suit says.
Later that month, Velez gave the store manager a written request seeking a “reasonable accommodation,” accompanied by a doctor’s note.
The doctor, according to the lawsuit, said Velez should not reach above her head to get merchandise when more than 3 feet off the ground on a ladder. The doctor suggested she be allowed to get help in those situations.
The store didn’t agree to those accommodations until early 2016, after Velez was called to meet with the regional manager for Walmart, according to the lawsuit.
“She describes how difficult it is to climb the ladders with the merchandise,” her lawyer wrote, adding, “They appeared not to have known about the accommodation request.”
Velez, her attorney wrote, then received reprimands Feb. 26 and March 4, 2016, for poor performance. She also was told March 4 that a lower-paid position was available to her.
She took it, according to the lawsuit, in the belief she would be fired otherwise.
“These actions were in retaliation for Lisa Velez having requested an accommodation,” the suit says. “As a result of the unlawful retaliation, Lisa Velez suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life and lost income.”