Former Walmart ADA & Immigration Director Sues for Disability Discimination

A longtime employee of Walmart Inc. of Bentonville sued the retail giant in Washington County Circuit Court alleging the company fired her in August 2017 because of disability discrimination and retaliation.

Melinda Allen of Fayetteville, through her attorney John Coulter of McMath Woods in Little Rock, filed the suit in late August.

Allen is asking for compensatory and punitive damages as well as either reinstatement at the company or lost-earning payment.

Allen, in the lawsuit, said she was earning approximately $200,000 annually as the company’s director of ADA and immigration compliance. Allen started with Walmart as a cashier in a Fayetteville store in 1988 before moving to the home office in 1992 and into human resources in 1996.

Allen said she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1997 and has also been diagnosed with disseminated histoplasmosis. She was named director of ADA and immigration compliance in 2012 and told her then-supervisor, Ronetta Francis, that she would miss every eighth Friday in order to receive infusion treatments at Highlands Oncology Center.

She said Francis began to schedule meetings on Fridays in response.

Allen said Francis made belittling comments about her energy levels and her inability to do her job because of her ulcerative colitis. In late spring 2015, Allen said she took an approved six-week medical leave and was disciplined by Francis when she returned to work.

After experiencing what the suit called “unrelenting harassment and intimidation,” Allen filed a complaint with the company’s ethics department in January 2016. When she believed no action was initiated, she contacted Jeff Gearhart, the company’s corporate secretary, to complain.

Allen said she later learned from a internal report that the company had concluded that Allen’s complaints against Francis and supervisor Erica Brown were legitimate. Neither Francis nor Brown are now employed at Walmart.

Allen took medical leave in June 2017 to have surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and returned to Walmart on July 21. On Aug. 9, supervisor Jan Sturner told Allen that Walmart had decided to dismiss her. That was the first day that Allen and Sturner were at work together since her surgery, which Allen alleges is proof that the decision was made during her medical leave.

Allen said she had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and her allegations of disability discrimination and retaliation are violations of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove denied Allen's allegations.
"We do not tolerate discrimination," Hargrove told Whispers. "Ms. Allen’s position was eliminated after the area she worked in was restructured. We plan to defend the company against the allegations."