January 10, 2017 / 6:37 PM / 3 years ago

Wal-Mart owes pharmacist $16.08 million for gender bias, sum may drop

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc has been ordered by a federal judge to pay $16.08 million to a former New Hampshire pharmacist in a gender bias case, but the amount is only about half what a jury awarded and may fall substantially further.

A girl walks along the checkouts at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Springdale, Arkansas June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe also asked the New Hampshire Supreme Court to advise whether the plaintiff Maureen McPadden was entitled under state law to any of the $15 million of “enhanced” damages that comprised most of the award.

Though “reasonable minds can differ,” Wal-Mart “asserts - not implausibly” that such damages are not available, the Concord, New Hampshire judge wrote on Jan. 6.

Wal-Mart considers the damages award “improper,” spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an email. “We look forward to the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s determination.”

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer has said it does not tolerate discrimination.

McPadden accused the world’s largest retailer of using her loss of a pharmacy key as a pretext for her November 2012 dismissal from a store in Seabrook, New Hampshire, after more than 13 years at the retailer.

She said Wal-Mart actually fired her in retaliation for her raising concerns about whether prescriptions were being filled properly. McPadden also said her gender played a role, saying a male pharmacist who later lost his key was not fired.

Jurors originally awarded McPadden $31.22 million, a sum that McAuliffe said was “to say the least, startling.”

As required by federal law, the judge later reduced the punitive damages component, to $300,000 from $15 million, and in a Jan. 5 order said McPadden deserved just $111,591 of front pay, one-fifth what the jury had awarded.

Wal-Mart had sought to overturn the entire verdict, but McAuliffe rejected that request in September.

Rick Fradette, a lawyer for McPadden, said that if enhanced damages were ever warranted, “it is where the world’s largest private employer continues to discriminate against women in the 21st century.

“Wal-Mart’s posture has been that it will fight this to the end,” he said. “We’ll see what the New Hampshire Supreme Court has to say.”

The case is McPadden v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire, No. 14-00475.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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