Walmart Ordered to Pay $31M After Firing Pharmacist for Exposing Unsafe Conditions
For over 10 years, Maureen McPadden worked as a pharmacist for a Walmart in Seabrook, New Hampshire. She was fired in 2012, allegedly for losing her key to the pharmacy, but she suspected the real reason was because she had been voicing concerns over safety problems in the store’s pharmacy. She sued her former employer and recently, a jury sided with her claims and ordered Walmart to pay $31M in damages.
In her suit, McPadden alleged that in the two years leading up to her termination, the store’s pharmacy had a very high turnover rate and that instead of filling the positions with qualified, experienced workers, Walmart either hired inexperienced workers who were poorly trained or never bothered to fill the vacant positions at all. With so many inexperienced employees working in the pharmacy, McPadden noticed that prescription errors were happening more and more frequently.
Realizing what a big risk this posed to public safety, McPadden brought her concerns to the Chief Compliance Investigator of the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy in 2011. She also contacted the Walmart District Manager for her store, but nothing was done to address the problem. The same month she contacted the District Manager, there was a rather serious error with a customer’s prescription, which McPadden was initially blamed for although she wasn’t at fault. In the two years before she was fired, McPadden was disciplined on two separate occasions because pharmacy technicians failed to file reports as required.
Eventually, the stress of her situation at work began to take a toll on McPadden and she began having health problems as a result. It got to the point where her doctor recommended she take a two-week medical leave from work. When she came back to work, she found out another pharmacy employee had illegally accessed her medical history and told other employees about medications she was taking. When she alerted the District Manager to what had happened, the manager simply transferred the employee to a different department in the same store.
Shortly after the incident with the other employee, McPadden temporarily lost her key to the pharmacy while she was in the process of moving into a new home. Although she says she followed proper protocol for reporting the lost key, she says the store used the lost key as an excuse to fire her for speaking out about safety problems in the pharmacy. In her suit, she pointed out that other male pharmacists had also lost their keys, but were disciplined rather than fired.
Discrimination based on her gender was a large part of McPadden’s lawsuit, which the jury agreed with. The jury also agreed that Walmart had retaliated against her for trying to do something about the pharmacy’s safety problems. In the time leading up to the trial, McPadden says people close to her often tried to talk her into giving up the fight, but she kept on fighting because she believed it’s what her father would have wanted her to do. She said, “My late father always told me that my job was very, very important and that I had a real duty to keep my patients safe. The conditions in the pharmacy were not safe. It was really in my soul to do something about it.”