A federal agency is suing Walmart, saying it violated federal law when it failed to accommodate a former Augusta store worker’s disability accommodation request properly and ended up firing her instead.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Walmart Store, Inc., and Walmart Stores East on behalf of Veronica Resendez, of Augusta.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor follows a finding by the EEOC that it has “reasonable cause to believe that Walmart violated the (Americans with Disabilities Act).” There was also a failed attempt at conciliation.

According to the lawsuit, filed by Markus L. Penzel, the commission’s senior trial attorney in the Boston area office, Resendez began working for Walmart in 1999 as a cashier in Texas and transferred to the Augusta store in December 2009.

The lawsuit says Resendez later developed physical impairments, including stenosis of the spine and bone degeneration, so she requested an accommodation from the company in January 2013. She provided information indicating disabilities would prevent her from going higher than the first step of a ladder, from lifting over 15 pounds and from kneeling, among other things.

The request was denied Feb. 3, 2013, by the company, which said the disability “prevented (Resendez) from performing one or more of the essential functions of her position.” The complaint says Walmart offered an alternative reassignment to a vacant position, and that Resendez told the store’s personnel manager “she would welcome reassignment to a Sam’s Club (where she had worked previously)” or to other Walmarts in Rockland and Waterville.

However, no vacant fitting room or greeter post was available at the Augusta site over the next 90 days. Then Resendez went on a one-year unpaid leave, with Walmart saying she could apply for open positions, according to the complaint. At the end, with no agreement on a new position, Walmart terminated her employment in March 2014.

The lawsuit says two posts for fitting room assistants were open at the Waterville store, but Resendez was not offered those.

“By failing to search beyond the store location in which Resendez last worked and to offer Resendez either of the two Fitting Room Associate positions in Waterville, Walmart violated its obligation under the ADA to reassign Resendez to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities,” the complaint says.

Replying via email to a request for comment about the lawsuit, Ragan Dickens, director for National Media Relations at Walmart, said, “We value our associates and work with them when they face life changes that impact their ability to do their job. We have been in discussions to see if this matter can be resolved.”

“We always try to keep lines of communication open, and we hope to do so going forward,” Penzel said Friday. He said he anticipates that Walmart will file a response to the complaint within 60 days of accepting it. He also said it is the first time in his 19 years with the commission that it has sued Walmart in Maine.

Resendez was working at the Augusta Walmart when the alleged disability discrimination occurred.

The commission seeks an injunction barring Walmart from engaging in disability discrimination, requiring the company to “provide equal employment opportunities and reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities and that eradicate the effects of its past and present unlawful employment practices.”

It also seeks back pay and other compensation for Resendez and punitive damages for her, as well as the commission’s legal costs.

“Federal law requires employers to reassign disabled employees to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, said in a news release sent Friday. “Despite this obligation, Walmart’s policy refuses to take the simple step of looking beyond the store in which a disabled employee works.”

Christopher M. Kaczmarek, of Littler Mendelson, Boston is listed as the attorney representing Walmart, according to documents filed in federal court.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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