A former Walmart pharmacist was awarded around $31.2 million from her ex-employer after a federal jury decided that she was fired because of her gender and her concerns with understaffing and training.

According to court documents, Maureen McPadden started working for Walmart in 1994 as a staff pharmacist. Over the years, she was employed at several Walmart stores across the country.

In 2010, she started working for a Walmart in Seabrook, New Hampshire, under pharmacy manager Janice Urbanski. At one point, Urbanski documented that she gave McPadden a “verbal coaching” for not fulfilling certain tasks in a timely matter.  

However, McPadden said she was not informed that this was a formal reprimand, since Walmart’s policy requires the supervisor to say “you are being coached,” and Urbanski did not do so, according to McPadden. Thus, McPadden argued, the incident did not count as official discipline.

In the summer of 2011, McPadden raised concerns with both Urbanski and a district manager named David Kelley about some issues she had with staffing. She asserted that there were not enough adequately trained pharmacy technicians for the busy summer season.

McPadden noted that other pharmacy staff also spoke with management about staffing issues, and Urbanski agreed that they needed more technicians, court documents stated.

In McPadden’s employee review conducted by Urbanski on September 26, 2011, she was given a 3 out of 5 (a “solid performer”). However, Urbanski noted that McPadden needed to complete tasks in a more timely matter.

Later, McPadden received a second coaching for being late, failing to complete tasks, and leaving work without having all of her tasks completed.

In the next review, Urbanski downgraded McPadden to a 2 out of 5, but she still maintained that McPadden was a solid performer with her technical competencies.

Later, a man named Joshua Varieur took over Urbanski’s position, which did not please McPadden because she did not believe he had adequate training. She said she was concerned about patients’ prescriptions being filled correctly.

In 2012, Varieur filled a prescription with a generic drug instead of the brand-name version, despite the fact that the patient expressed an allergy to the generic. Varieur had also made 2 errors on earlier occasions, according to McPadden At one point, McPadden saw her physician and took a 2-week leave of absence due to stress. Meanwhile, at the pharmacy, a woman working at the counter named Jennifer Fonseca discovered that McPadden’s physician had prescribed her lorazepam.

Fonseca told Varieur this and speculated that McPadden was having a nervous breakdown. A pharmacy technician overheard this and told McPadden when she returned to work.

McPadden spoke with Joseph Certo (who had replaced Kelley as district manager) and said this violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but McPadden claimed that Certo took no meaningful action in investigating the matter.  

Three weeks later, McPadden sent an e-mail to Certo saying she lost her key, which, according to Walmart policy, could potentially lead to termination.

Certo contacted his colleagues for input since he had not been in this situation before.

His colleague, Donald Walls, said loss of keys would mean a first-level coaching, so a disciplinary report would be appropriate. (There was also evidence that a male New Hampshire pharmacist had lost keys and received a 1-level coaching.)

However, Certo told Walls that he thought this was McPadden’s third written report, which would lead to termination. He later found out that she was not on her “third-written,” but after consultation with other directors, he found out that in a previous case involving a loss of keys, the pharmacist received a 2-level coaching.

Certo then informed McPadden that the loss of keys was a 2-level coaching, and since she had already been issued a 2-level coaching, she was terminated.

McPadden maintained that she was fired not because of the key situation but because of her gender, report of public safety concerns, and use of the Family and Medical Leave Act, court documents stated.

Rick Fradette, RPh, MPH, JD, McPadden’s trial attorney, told Pharmacy Times that a jury of 8 New Hampshire residents viewed the evidence in detail and reached its unanimous verdict after a few hours following the 5-day trial. 

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told Pharmacy Times that the concerns that McPadden raised did not play a role in her dismissal.
 
“We do not tolerate any discrimination of any type,” Hargrove said. “We disciplined her for legitimate business reasons, and because Ms McPadden was already in our company’s progressive disciplinary process, the final offense of losing her pharmacy keys resulted in her termination.”
 
Concerning the $31 million in damages, Hargrove said they “respectively disagree” with the verdict.
 
“In our view, this decision is not supported by the facts or the law, and we will be asking the court to set aside the verdict or reduce the damages as it deems appropriate,” Hargrove said. 

Around $15 million of $31.2 million punitive damages McPadden received were related to gender bias.