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Court strikes claim after lie about therapy

A hearing-impaired employee who sued Walmart for disability discrimination forfeited both her lawyer and her claim for damages when she lied about receiving mental health treatment.

Stephanie Holmes worked four years as a stocker for a Walmart in Alexandria. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging Walmart failed to provide her with an interpreter and comprehensive notes of meetings and instructions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up her cause, and represented her in Alexandria federal court.

Because the EEOC sued for emotional pain and suffering, Walmart sought discovery of Holmes’ medical history, including whether she had received any kind of mental health treatment. The company also asked for any diaries or journals relevant to Holmes’ claims.

The EEOC response said Holmes has not visited a “doctor, physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or any other health care provider” in connection with her complaints. During a deposition, Holmes said, “I don’t need therapy and I don’t see doctors.”

She changed her story a couple of times. By the end of the deposition, Holmes admitted she had received therapy for anxiety and depression over a 13-year period, from 1994 to 2007, and some of her treatment related to her employment at Walmart.

The Alexandria U.S. District Court allowed the EEOC to withdraw as a plaintiff, and Holmes carried on with her suit.

Walmart wanted the court to throw out Holmes’ case. But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, on a recommendation from the magistrate judge, said striking Holmes’ claim for compensatory damages was enough to punish her bad-faith conduct and deter future misconduct.

Ellis also denied Walmart’s request for attorney’s fees. He said it didn’t appear Holmes had the means to pay attorney’s fees and granting a fee award likely would prevent her from pursuing her ADA claim.

By Deborah Elkins

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