Massachusetts’ highest court has affirmed $973,000 in compensatory damages and restored $1 million in punitive damages against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a sexual discrimination case brought by a pharmacy manager who contended she was paid less than her male counterparts.
According to a unanimous October 5 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Boston in Cynthia Haddad v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the pharmacist had accepted the temporary position of pharmacy manager in the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer’s Pittsfield, Massachusetts, store.
In addition to their hourly wages as pharmacists, pharmacy managers receive an additional hourly stipend as well as an annual bonus, according to the opinion.
Haddad said she received an hourly rate considerably lower than any male pharmacy manager in the Pittsfield region. After numerous complaints, she said she finally received a check for the pharmacy manager bonus, but never received 13 months of additional hourly pay.
She was terminated in 2004 after an incident in which a pharmacy technician fraudulently filled a prescription while Haddad was taking a break.
However, the same technician had fraudulently filled another prescription while a male pharmacy manager was on duty and the male manager was not disciplined, according to the opinion.
Haddad filed a gender discrimination suit, and a jury awarded her the nearly $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The trial judge affirmed the compensatory damages but dismissed the punitive damages award, concluding there was no evidence that the retailer “knowingly or intentionally” violated the law.
Wal-Mart then appealed the compensatory damages award.
“Wal-Mart employees gave inconsistent reasons for the plaintiff’s termination, and were also inconsistent regarding who was responsible for the decision,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
“There was ample evidence from which a jury could have inferred that …Wal-Mart acted with discriminatory intent,” the court said in upholding the compensatory damages award.
“In circumstances virtually identical to the incident for which the plaintiff was purportedly terminated, a male pharmacist was neither questioned about nor disciplined for the second fraudulent prescription,” the court said in its ruling. “There was evidence of other incidents in which male pharmacists were not disciplined for far more serious infractions of Wal-Mart policies, or even for actions that violated state and federal law.”
In restoring $1 million in punitive damages, the court said there was “sufficient evidence of reprehensible or recklessly indifferent conduct to support an award of punitive damages.”
Reacting to the ruling, a Wal-Mart spokesman said the chain “has strong equal employment opportunity policies and we foster female leadership.”