Jury orders $2M award

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The jury awarded Cynthia Haddad almost $2 million as compensation for lost and future wages and to punish Wal-Mart's behavior. The verdict followed roughly eight hours of deliberations that capped a two-week trial.

"It sends a message that you can't treat people poorly because of who they are," said David Belfort, one of Haddad's attorneys. "The verdict makes it clear that the jury felt that not only was there misconduct, but it ought to be punished."

As the verdict was read, Haddad began crying, and her cries became near sobs as she hugged her legal team and family outside the courtroom.

"I can sleep tonight," she was heard to say.

Wal-Mart's attorneys quickly left the courtroom and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Haddad's lawsuit stemmed from her dismissal in April 2004 from the Wal-Mart pharmacy in Pittsfield, where she had worked for more than 10 years.

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Wal-Mart said it fired her because she left the pharmacy unattended and allowed a technician to use her computer security code to issue prescriptions during her absence. While Haddad was away, Wal-Mart alleged, a prescription for Plavix, an anti-clotting drug given to cardiac patients, was filled.

Haddad and her legal team said that charge was a trumped-up excuse, and that the fraudulent prescription had been filled 18 months earlier, without Haddad's knowledge. They said Haddad was really fired because she demanded to be paid as well as her male counterparts, including a bonus given to pharmacy managers. The company consented and paid the bonus, but she was fired two weeks later.

The plaintiff's legal team of Belfort and Richard Fradette argued that Wal-Mart had never fired anyone else for the charge of "failure to secure the pharmacy." And they said more severe infractions by male pharmacists went unpunished.

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"Wal-Mart took a 10-year employee with 10 years of the highest level of professional reviews available and, in 45 minutes, fired her for no legitimate reason," Fradette said. "At the same time, it tolerated violations of policies by male pharmacists with no punishment."

Wal-Mart argued that Haddad was not really a pharmacy manager and was paid appropriately for her work. While she may have carried the manager's title, Wal-Mart said, she did not perform a manager's duties.

The jury appears to have rejected Wal-Mart's defense completely and found for Haddad on every count.

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The jury of eight women and four men ruled that Haddad was owed $1,767 in compensation for lost wages because of unequal pay. And it ordered Wal-Mart to pay $95,000 in damages for improper termination of employment.

For emotional distress, the jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay Haddad $125,000 and $17,700 in financial damages.

The jurors ruled that Haddad was owed $733,000 in wages that she would have earned over the course of her career had she not been fired.

And the biggest penalty was assessed in the form of punitive damages of $1 million, a sum meant to punish Wal-Mart for the discrimination.

"What the jury saw is that, if Wal-Mart will treat a well-educated, professional woman with such reckless disregard, can you imagine how they treat other women in the work force?" Fradette said.



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