Sunday, October 2, 2011

Man wins lawsuit against Wal-Mart for wrongful termination

Tomah WI Oct 2 2011
A Black River Falls man has won a five-year court battle against Walmart for firing him because of a criminal conviction.

A state Department of Workforce Development judge awarded Nathan Knight $163,784 in back pay and ordered Walmart to re-hire him as a forklift driver at its Tomah distribution center, according to a decision reached this week.

Walmart fired him in 2005 after learning he’d been convicted 10 years earlier for third-degree sexual assault, first-degree recklessly endangering safety and false imprisonment in Jackson County Circuit Court after he assaulted his then-girlfriend and threatened to shoot himself.

He was 20 years old when convicted and didn’t start working at Walmart until five years later.

“We’re very pleased with the fact that after five years justice has prevailed,” said Knight’s attorney, Jim Birnbaum of La Crosse. “Employers ought to treat employees fairly and justly.”

The retail giant argued Knight’s criminal convictions “substantially related” to his job, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

Walmart lost its case when its attorneys failed to prove how the convictions were related.

“Nathan Knight does not present a risk or danger to anyone based on the circumstances of what happened,” Birnbaum said.

While at work, Knight was around other co-workers and supervisors and monitored by security cameras, leaving no “substantial opportunity for Knight to engage in the type of behavior at work for which he was convicted,” the department ruled.

The company must also pay $223,058 in attorney fees.

Walmart has 21 days to appeal. Its attorneys did not return Tribune phone calls Wednesday.

Knight plans to return to Walmart as soon as possible, Birnbaum said.

“That’s always been his goal,” Birnbaum said. “He wants to work.”

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