Courts & Corrections

Rutland woman accuses Walmart of disability rights violations

Walmart
The Walmart store in downtown Rutland. A woman with cerebral palsy has sued, claiming the store wouldn’t accommodate her disability. Photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger
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.”


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Alan J. Keays

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  • Tim Vincent

    A classic case of stupid management.
    But wait, “stupid management” lives everywhere.
    I hope that this woman collects big time.

  • jan van eck

    Stupid managers exist everywhere; the problem is endemic in our society. Arrogant, insolent, callous, everbearing, self-absorbed, these are the people in today’s “management” ranks. You think WalMart is bad? Try Yale University! You would think a place stuffed with Ph.D.s would have some smarts. No chance. A large department there (in charge of fund-raising from wealthy donors, no less) had a clerk, a woman who had suffered an auto accident and was sensitive to cold drafts on the neck. So, the managers parked her smack underneath an A/C duct! She asked for the desk to be moved six feet. Request refused. She asked for a ceiling deflector to keep the blast off her neck. Request refused. Then the “managers,” people with M.A. and Ph.D. after their names, fired her for complaining. Cost them thirty grand.

    The managers don’t much care about settlement payments. Not their money anyway, they collect bucketsful from the alums, and Yale has some $35 billion in the kitty. And now you know why I don’t write checks to Yale University. Arrogant pigs, all. These people are a complete disgrace.

    • Mary Reed

      Based on your recount of the Yale incident, I could not help but wonder if there was a wish to have the woman gone from the fund-raising office, underlying reasons for that wish (reasons beyond the complaint she made) and a decision that an imposed payoff would be worth the cost. Sometimes behavior that seems callous is a strategy to remove a perceived problem. It is a sad reality that sometimes there are employees who are problems for their managers, and not always because the manager is the problem. It is an equally sad reality that there are managers who, right or wrong, perceive an employee as the problem and, rather than make an effort to examine and address the actual performance problems, target the employee. Effectively addressing performance problems is a time-consuming and potentially challenging process that may involve examining one’s own attitudes and behaviors, but it is also a hallmark of effective supervision and management.