Jury awards former Wal-Mart employee $31 million over discrimination claim

Facing off against an employer, or a former employer, over a potentially unlawful issue can be a scary prospect. Companies may already have legal teams in place, and they may already have strategies for quickly shutting down worker lawsuits. And, of course, they may have deep pockets, which can seem like a powerful advantage during a legal fight.

The sole employee may feel as though he or she is in a vulnerable position.

However, a recent case shows that justice is not only worth fighting for, but it’s also possible to achieve—even against corporate behemoths.

Let’s take a look at how one worker recently won a massive victory against Wal-Mart.

Concerns about Safety

Maureen McPadden worked for Wal-Mart as a pharmacist for 13 years and had a history of positive performance reviews.

The pharmacy in the store where McPadden worked was extremely busy, especially during the summer months. In July 2011, McPadden received a reprimand for not completing certain tasks before leaving work.

Not long after that, McPadden began raising concerns that the pharmacy was understaffed and that some employees had not been adequately trained. She told management that she believed pharmacy customers could be at risk of receiving the wrong drugs, which could potentially cause a safety incident.

Her concerns were not addressed, so McPadden complained to the corporate Wal-Mart office. She also contacted the state board of pharmacy. After coming to work late one day, McPadden received another reprimand.

A new pharmacy manager was brought in. He twice dispensed incorrect prescriptions, and nearly did again on a third occasion. In the last incident, the error could’ve been deadly, as the pharmacy customer was allergic to the medicine that he or she almost received.

Not long after that, McPadden was terminated for losing her pharmacy key.

She retained an attorney and sued for gender discrimination and retaliation. In her lawsuit, she claimed that the company used her lost key as a pretext for her termination, which was, in fact, in retaliation for raising safety concerns. She also pointed out that a male pharmacist had also lost his key but had only been reprimanded and not fired.

Wal-Mart attempted to have the case thrown out, but the court refused, and the case went to trial. A jury awarded McPadden $31.22 million, including $15 million for punitive damages. The jury noted that the bulk of the punitive damages were to compensate her for the company’s gender bias.

Wal-Mart says it plans to appeal the verdict.

(The case discussed here is McPadden v. Wal-Mart.)

What It Means

Employees who have been treated unlawfully do not need to quietly put up with it. As this case shows, it is possible to achieve justice, even when going up against a corporate giant.

If you believe that your rights have been violated, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

E-mail us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.