Wal-Mart Loses Important Gender Discrimination and Defamation Case
By Meaghan Olson
Wal-Mart was recently sued in a landmark case in which a woman who had worked as a pharmacist for the company for 10 years was fired and escorted from the property for allegedly violating company policy and failing to secure the pharmacy.
As an employee of Wal-Mart Stores, Cynthia Haddad had lodged complaints with the company because she was acting as pharmacy manager but the company refused to pay her the same amount that they pay males in the same job capacity. She had also filed complaints about controlled drugs disappearing from the pharmacy.
In April of 2004, despite her record of positive employee reviews, Haddad was abruptly fired. Wal-Mart claims the reason for her termination was that she had violated company policy and failed to properly secure the pharmacy.
Haddad took particular offense at the allegations of being involved with drug theft and was traumatized by being fired. She decided to sue Wal-Mart for gender discrimination and defamation. The accusations devastated her, and she feared damage to her reputation and that if she did nothing to clear her name she would not be able to find work as a pharmacist.
In the lawsuit against Wal-Mart, Haddad said that Wal-Mart had fired her for leaving a pharmacy technician alone in the pharmacy, and that they alleged that this violation of company policy led to the theft of the prescription drug Prevacid by the technician. The incident occurred 18 months before Haddad was fired. In Massachusetts it is not illegal for a pharmacist to leave the pharmacy while a technician is working.
A human resources expert testified during the trial that Wal-Mart had failed to equally enforce its policies and did not update employees when policies had changed. A male pharmacist who had also worked at Wal-Mart testified that he had been on duty when theft of Vicodin, a controlled substance, had occurred, and he had not been disciplined by the company.
Exhibits presented by Haddad's attorneys during the trial included performance reviews which included glowing compliments about Haddad's work. She was described as "a huge asset" and "very reliable".
To counter the testimony and exhibits about Haddad's work performance, Wal-Mart's attorneys argued that Haddad had not received excellent reviews throughout the duration of her employment, insinuating that there had been times when she received poor reviews. During the trial they stood by their claims that gender played no part in her dismissal.
Wal-Mart's attorneys also claimed that Haddad was not entitled to manager's pay because technically she wasn't a pharmacy manager. Haddad had filled in for the pharmacy manager for a full 13 months. Since she did not officially have the title of "manager", Wal-Mart says she was not entitled to the extra $1 per hour that other managers are paid. These other managers also happen to be male.
The jury deliberated and decided that Wal-Mart was guilty of defamation. They did not award Haddad any money for this finding.
In the case of gender discrimination though, the jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay Cynthia Haddad $2 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Haddad's attorneys plan to also seek a judgment for legal fees against Wal-Mart.
Haddad's legal victory is important because it may widen a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination involving 1.5 to 2 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores since 1998. One of Haddad's attorneys reportedly said that this case may only be "the tip of the iceberg".
Wal-Mart plans to appeal the verdict. This ruling puts them in a precarious position in regard to future lawsuits which could cost them tremendous amounts of money. It would not hurt them to pay out the $2 million to Haddad, given the size and wealth of the company; however they do not want to concede defeat and have the floodgates open for other lawsuits against them.