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story.lead_photo.caption Adam Catlin gets ready to start his shift at a Walmart in Selinsgrove, Pa. Catlin, who has cerebral palsy, is afraid he’ll be out of work after store officials changed his job description to add tasks that he’s physically unable to do.

Walmart Inc.'s new job requirements for store greeters that will take effect in late April will disproportionately affect people with disabilities, who face the loss of their jobs, a lawyer for a disability-rights organization said.

The Bentonville retailer began in mid-2016 to shift some of its "people greeter" jobs to the role of "customer host." These new positions reportedly require workers to be able to lift 25 pounds and perform tasks such as cleaning up spills, collecting carts and standing for long periods -- all of which may be difficult or impossible for some disabled employees.

Walmart said it is giving workers 60 days' notice of the job changes coming to an unspecified number of stores. The company did not say how many stores have already made the changes.

However, in a statement Tuesday, Walmart said it will extend the 60-day transition period for its employees with disabilities "while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store."

Thomas Nichols, an attorney with Disability Rights Arkansas in Little Rock, said on Tuesday that the changes to greeter job requirements "disparately impact people with disabilities."

"We're seeing that it's affecting people everywhere who typically not just had jobs that they were able to be accommodated in, but that they enjoyed and felt really part of their community," Nichols said.

Disability Rights Arkansas is an independent, nonprofit agency that's part of a nationwide system of state-level protection and advocacy centers created by Congress in the early 1970s. Nichols said this issue has been a topic of discussion among the center's sister organizations in other states.

"I would really hope Walmart reconsiders its position on this change in the job description," Nichols said. "And also whether an individual can be accommodated to continue fulfilling the requirements of that job."

National Public Radio reported Tuesday that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has received complaints from former Walmart greeters who could not meet the new job requirements. The news outlet mentioned cases in Michigan, Wisconsin and Texas.

One former Walmart employee filed a lawsuit Jan. 30 in U.S. District Court in Utah claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to court documents, Manase L. Yokwe was working as a Walmart greeter in 2016 while recovering from back injuries sustained in a car accident and later at his Walmart job working in inventory.

Around July 2016, the complaint states, Yokwe's store manager met with the greeters and told them of the coming changes in job title and functions. The manager asked those who were restricted to working in a sitting position to identify themselves by raising their hands. Yokwe and others, including one greeter who used a wheelchair, did so.

Those who raised their hands were then told "that they were unable to perform the essential functions of the new Customer Host position," the document states. "Mr. Yokwe and the other People Greeters who identified themselves as needing sitting positions were then handed severance agreements to consider."

After the meeting, Yokwe asked his supervisor for an accommodation of a light-duty position that would allow him to sit for most of his shift until his back condition improved. Although the supervisor repeatedly assured Yokwe that another position would be found for him, Yokwe was fired in early July 2016. Because he had not signed the proposed severance agreement, he didn't receive any severance pay, the complaint states.

In August 2016, Yokwe filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging wrongful termination and failure to accommodate his disability.

Walmart said in an emailed statement Tuesday regarding the lawsuit that the company "does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind," and that the elimination of the greeter position was unrelated to Yokwe's disability.

"Mr. Yokwe was given time to apply for a new position, just like our other greeters at our store, yet he never did," the retailer said. "We take claims of discrimination seriously; and we will respond in court to Mr. Yokwe's complaint."

Nichols, the Disability Rights Arkansas lawyer, urged anyone affected by the job changes to file a complaint with the EEOC.

"If anybody needs assistance with filing an EEOC complaint on this issue, we can direct them to resources or even assist them," he said. "That's something we do as part of our federal mandate."

Business on 02/27/2019

Print Headline: Walmart greeter change draws outcry

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