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October 5, 2004

Deaf ex-manager sues Wal-Mart

From: The News Journal, DE - Oct 5, 2004

The News Journal

A deaf woman who worked as a manager for a Wal-Mart store in New Castle has accused the company of violating federal disability regulations by refusing to hire a qualified sign-language interpreter to help her during company meetings and by allowing fellow employees to taunt her.

In a trial that began Monday, a lawyer for Lily Spencer, 40, of New Castle, told jurors that Wal-Mart employees harassed her until she became suicidal and was forced to quit in 2002.

One manager told her she could not be as good an employee as a person with normal hearing and that she had to improve her English skills if she wanted to be promoted, lawyer Alan B. Epstein told jurors in U.S. District Court in Wilmington. Spencer was born in Korea and reads and writes English as a second language, Epstein said.

Company attorney David S. Fryman said Wal-Mart officials did everything they could to help Spencer, promoting her twice, hiring a sign-language interpreter to translate for her during work-related training sessions and offering to give her a different job with better hours after she complained about working on nights and weekends.

"No matter what people of the store tried to do to help her, it was, in her eyes, not good enough," Fryman told the jury of five women and four men.

Spencer began working for the New Castle Wal-Mart in 1999 stocking shelves. When a new manager arrived, her troubles began, Epstein said. He refused to provide her with an interpreter able to use the only style of sign language she understood, which failed to accommodate her disability as required by federal law, Epstein said.

Fryman said Spencer just didn't get along with the interpreters the company hired for her.

She continued to work for the company and eventually became manager of the department that over-

sees all the goods placed for sale around the cash registers. When she became frustrated by the dispute over the interpreter, she applied for, and was given, a position with the accounting department handling store cash, Epstein said.

In that department, the alleged harassment was so intense that she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates discrimination complaints filed by employees. The commission eventually ruled in her favor.

Despite the ruling, the atmosphere at work remained hostile, Epstein said. Spencer became suicidal and was forced to quit for health reasons, Epstein said.

Spencer is expected to tell her story to the jury today with the help of two interpreters, Epstein said. The trial is expected to end Thursday or Friday.

Contact Steven Church at 324-2786 or

Copyright ©2004, The News Journal.