APPLE VALLEY, Minn. - Anne Pearce-West had worked for Walmart for 10 years when she began to suffer pain and cramping in her hands and wrists. She went to the emergency room twice and soon underwent surgery to correct what doctors said was advanced carpal tunnel syndrome.
When she returned to work from medical leave in January, she filed for workers' compensation benefits.
Two weeks later, she couldn't clock in at the Apple Valley Walmart, where she stocked dairy and frozen merchandise, and learned that her discount card was deactivated. Her managers had no explanation.
The next day, she was fired.
Pearce-West of St. Paul is suing the retail giant in federal court, claiming she was fired in retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits and that the company discriminated against her due to her injuries or disabilities. She wants damages, attorney fees and reinstatement of her job.
Walmart denies wrongdoing.
"The employment decisions about which (Pearce-West) complains were based on reasonable factors and not discriminatory or retaliatory animus," the company said in its answer to the lawsuit.
The company also offered as possible defenses: the statute of limitation has passed; she failed to prevent any injuries or damages that occurred; she failed to request accommodation; and it would have been "an undue hardship to accommodate (Pearce-West) because it would have meant doing away with one or more of the essential requirements of the job."
Pearce-West didn't ask for special accommodations after her return to work because she didn't need any, her attorney, Ashwin Madia, said.
But the extent of her injuries and whether they stem from her physical job duties are not the crux of this case, Madia said.
"She'll have to make that case in the workers' compensation case. And if Walmart contests it, then yes, she'll have to prove that these injuries were the result of her work," Madia said. "What this lawsuit is about is that Walmart terminated her employment in retaliation for making a workers' compensation claim, which is illegal."
"We do not tolerate discrimination or retaliation for workplace issues of any kind," Walmart corporate spokesman Randy Hargrove said Friday. "We respectfully disagree with the allegations raised in the complaint. We ended Ms. Pearce-West's employment for legitimate business reasons according to the company's progressive discipline policy."
Madia represents another client with a similar story. Gabriel Teneyuque also worked at the Apple Valley Walmart in 2014 and filed a workers' compensation claim after he said he injured his foot on the job. He informed a manager of the injury the day it happened; he was fired a month later for allegedly violating company policy by failing to report the injury within 24 hours, according to a lawsuit Teneyuque filed in federal court in November.
That case is pending.