A jury awarded more than $31 million in damages to Maureen McPadden, a former Walmart pharmacist in New Hampshire, who claims she was fired because of her gender after raising safety concerns to her superiors. The federal jury ordered Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pay most of the money based on gender discrimination claims, though they also found that Walmart’s actions were unlawful retaliation for her complaints.
While working at Walmart’s Seabrook pharmacy, McPadden, 51, pointed out safety issues regarding co-workers who were filling prescriptions improperly because of inadequate training and negligent supervision. She claims that Walmart used the loss of her pharmacy key as a pretext to fire her in November, 2012, after more than 13 years working for the company.
According to Reuters, she also claimed there was gender discrimination involved in their decision to fire her, highlighting the different treatment given to a male co-worker who also lost his pharmacy key but was not fired.
“McPadden said she was fired in retaliation for her raising concerns that customers at the Wal-Mart store in Seabrook, New Hampshire, where she worked were getting prescriptions filled improperly because of inadequate staff training. McPadden also said her gender played a role, alleging that Wal-Mart later disciplined but stopped short of firing a male pharmacist in New Hampshire who also lost his pharmacy key.”
Walmart denied it engaged in any wrongful or illegal conduct, but after a five-day trial, the jury only deliberated for two-and-a-half hours before ruling in favor of the plaintiff. Walmart was ruled to be at fault for multiple counts of discrimination, as well as one count of retaliation and wrongful termination.
The Consumerist reported more details on the complains that McPadden raised about the Seabrook store’s pharmaceutical practices. McPadden said that 13 different employees at the pharmacy either “quit, transferred, or were fired,” and that Walmart either left the positions empty or replaced them with inexperienced new people with inadequate training, posing a public health risk.
“This constant turnover, understaffing, and inexperienced staff created a serious threat to the safety of patients and resulted in regulatory violations regarding the safe practice of pharmacy.”
McPadden contacted the Chief Compliance Investigator of the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy, but nothing was done about the situation. During that same month, a serious prescription dispensing error occurred, which McPadden’s boss initially tried to blame on her, though she was eventually found to not be responsible.
Walmart was ordered to pay $164,093 in back pay, $558,392.87 in front pay, $500,000 in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages to McPadden. Walmart will be appealing the decision and will ask Judge Steven McAuliffe to throw out the verdict or reduce the awarded damages.
“The facts do not support this decision,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said to Reuters. “We do not tolerate discrimination of any type, and neither that nor any concerns that Ms. McPadden raised about her store’s pharmacy played a role in her dismissal.”
Lauren Irwin, a lawyer for McPadden, was quoted in the International Business Times as saying that the jury reached “a fair and just verdict.”
The case was McPadden v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire, No. 14-00475.
The multinational corporation is the world’s largest company by revenue, pulling in a staggering $485 billion in revenue last year. It employs 1.4 million people in the United States alone. This is also not the first time the retail giant has been accused of gender discrimination, according to the International Business Times.
“In 2013, five Wisconsin women asserted in a lawsuit that the company had denied them and other female employees equal pay and equal opportunities. Women represent 72 percent of all hourly employees at the retailer but hold only 33 percent of managerial positions.”
McPadden, for her part, was confident that the right side prevailed and phrased the court ruling as a victory for the “little guy” over the “big guy.”
“I honestly feel the jurors listened intently,” she said according to CBS News. “I really feel they wanted to send a message that the little guy has a voice, that Walmart did something wrong.”
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]