A Sam’s Club employee who greeted customers at the door of the store from her wheelchair is still an employee, a Sam’s Club corporate spokeswoman said Thursday.
Sam’s Club managers are currently hammering out a plan to have the worker “back in the store” as early as next week, Sam’s Club spokeswoman Carrie McKnight said.
“We recognize, as the community does, that she is incredibly valuable,” said McKnight. “She is now and always has been an associate.
“The job did change, but she was not terminated. We are currently working with her.”
Beckley attorney Steve New of Stephen P. New Law Firm said Monday that an associate partner at his firm is representing Cecil.
“Sam’s Club has appeared to engage in conduct which appears to violate state and federal laws protecting those with disabilities who want to work, in spite of limitations,” said New. “Melissa has worked hard and would like to continue to.”
Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart, the world’s largest store by revenue, with about $58 billion in 2018, according to McKnight. Headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart is the world’s largest private employer, with 2.2 million employees.
It was the largest grocery retailer in 2019, according to information in company financial reports.
Walmart has two locations in Raleigh County — on Eisenhower Drive in Beckley and in MacArthur. Sam’s Club is in Beckley.
Two local economic experts reported Monday that Walmart is a major employer in Raleigh County.
“They are a major employer, by numbers of employees,” said Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce CEO Ellen Taylor.
“As far as numbers of employees, they are what we would consider a larger business.”
Joe Brouse, executive director of the non-profit New River Gorge Economic Development Authority, agreed.
“They are one of our top private-sector employers,” said Brouse. “They are a huge source of jobs.”
As greeter, Cecil had welcomed club members from an open space at the entrance. The position accommodated her use of a wheelchair for mobility — as employers are required to do under federal, state and local laws on disability discrimination.
A Facebook post circulated earlier this month from a Beaver man who had identified himself as Cecil’s coworker at Sam’s Club. The post reported that Cecil’s job as a greeter had been taken from her due to corporate reorganization of employees’ duties and that Cecil had been reassigned to work behind the Customer Service desk.
When she was unable to perform the new job duties due to her physical challenges, the Facebook post reported, managers did not schedule her to work.
Cecil was well-known in southern West Virginia due to her work at Sam’s Club. Following the Facebook post, several individual members of local business organizations had privately asked The Register-Herald to request an explanation from Sam’s Club on why Cecil was no longer stationed at the door.
“Our jobs are changing, and these jobs in Beckley did change, but we’re always trying to work with associates as things change,” McKnight explained on Thursday. “We weren’t really as clear as we needed to be about how to work with some associates who want to stay with the company but who likely need accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Right now, we’re working through the accommodations process,” said McKnight. “We are currently working with (Cecil).
“Our associates are incredibly important to us, and we know how much folks love them, especially people they see at the front.
“While I’ve not met Melissa, every story I’ve heard about her has been so positive,” she added. “I completely understand why people are upset but the good news is, she has not been terminated.
“We are working with her to find the roles that are right for her, and we really hope to see her in the club next week.”
Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold issued a statement Monday evening regarding local employment practices.
“The City and City Council, obviously, opposes any type of discrimination, for any reason,” Rappold said.