Walmart is the largest retailer in the world, so of course it has several big stores in and around Milwaukee. A new lawsuit against the discount giant states that a supervisor at an outlet told workers that an HIV-positive clerk had AIDS. The suit says the lie resulted in workplace ostracism and a significant decline in both her physical and mental health.
An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report says the evidence shows that the clerk was "harassed because of her disability and subjected to retaliatory disciplinary action after complaining." The federal agency adds that the supervisor violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by sharing confidential information about the woman's health condition with co-workers.
Walmart declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said it takes "allegations like this seriously" and will respond in court.
The plaintiff says in her suit that the events took place in 2013 and 2014 at a store where she had been an hourly worker for about six years. Her employment law attorney says the woman was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. "She was infected by her ex-husband through no fault of her own," the lawyer said. "She was not a drug user. She was not engaging in high-risk behavior. It was just a tragic situation over which she had no control."
The clerk told the store manager and personnel manager of her condition, her attorney said, because she wanted them "to know in advance so there won't be any issues" and they'd "be able to grant these absences as excused.'" The lawyer notes correctly that the ADA requires employers to give reasonable accommodations for conditions such as HIV, "recognized as a disability under the terms of the ADA."
A shift supervisor who worked with the plaintiff grew tired of the absences, however, and began spreading rumors that the clerk had AIDS. The falsehood "spread like wildfire" throughout the staff, damaging the woman's reputation and relationships with co-workers. Because HIV affects the immune system and is exacerbated by stress, the woman also experienced a significant decline in health after she learned of the falsehood spread by the supervisor.
After she complained of the unauthorized disclosure, the clerk endured retaliatory measures, her attorney said: her work schedule was juggled, she was repeatedly cited for "trumped up" store policy violations and she was eventually fired.
We don't know how her lawsuit will be resolved, but anyone who takes on the world's largest employer to right a wrong is to be commended. We will update you when possible on the case.