Linda H. Williams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Plaintiff Linda Williams was terminated at the age of 56 after nine years of employment when a store investigation showed that she had consumed bottles of water without first paying for them. Her claims of disability discrimination and retaliation were dismissed on summary judgment. After trial in Barren Circuit Court, the jury found that Williams had been subjected to age discrimination and awarded lost past and future wages of $97,237, emotional distress damages of $192,000, and punitive damages of $250,000. On appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously concluded that “no rational jury could have found that Williams was subjected to unlawful age discrimination.” 184 S.W.3d 492 (Ky. 2005) rehearing denied (2006). In the seminal Kentucky case applying Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000), the Kentucky Supreme Court held that Williams had established a prima facie case. Applying the shifting burdens required by the United States Supreme Court, the Court found that Wal-Mart had presented evidence of its legitimate non-discriminatory reason for termination: a strict policy against employees taking and using merchandise without first paying for it. However, the Court determined that Williams produced sufficient evidence of pretext, albeit weak. Applying Reeves, the Court then determined that there was abundant and uncontroverted independent evidence that no discrimination had occurred, specifically, two similarly situated employees under the age of 40 were fired for substantially the same reason and the off-site supervisor who made the termination decision had no knowledge of Williams’ age. Therefore, the Court held that no rational fact-finder could conclude that Williams’ termination was discriminatory. The jury verdict was overturned in its entirety.