For the past 10 years, Adam Catlin has worked as the store greeter at the Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania Walmart. Catlin has cerebral palsy which affects his ability to walk, lift, and even hold a pen. But, he was able to greet people, which was the primary function of his job.

However, according to store officials, on April 26, the job is changing--to include things that Catlin can't do, like lift up to 25 pounds and be on his feet for a good portion of the day.

Illegal discrimination or simply a job change?

At first glance, this could look like a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Catlin has clearly been able to do the job successfully for the past 10 years. So, when the company comes back with a new job description that requires tasks that weren't a part of the job before, it can look a little bit suspect.

The ADA  requires businesses (with 15 people or more, so Walmart clearly qualifies) to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. If a person can perform the core functions of the job--with or without an accommodation--then you cannot discriminate against them. In Catlin's case, it has been a reasonable accommodation to allow him to sit or use a walker.

But, Walmart is changing the job description from "greeter" to "host." A company spokesperson told Yahoo (they haven't yet responded to me) that the change means that instead of just greeting customers, the "customer hosts...keep the front clean, safe, and secure." In addition, they look at each store to decide what that store needs--a greeter or a host

It's not illegal discrimination to change the core functions of a job. Businesses need no outside approval to make internal changes. Where the question comes in is if the new duties are, fundamentally, core to the job.

From the spokesperson's description, it appears that they are--if the host is expected to clean up and keep the area safe, that requires lifting and better movement than Catlin has. 

Is this the right move?

Walmart is the best judge of what positions each store needs. Clearly, the last thing we want to do is come in from the outside and say "hey, you need to keep this position!" That would set a precedent no other business would want to follow.

But, sometimes, bad press isn't worth the change in business. Walmart has functioned for many years with the greeter in this store, instead of the more physically intense "host" position. The community is clearly not happy with this change. His mother's Facebook post describing the change received comments like this: 

Shirley Mason Newton How dare they change the job description and expect Adam to be able to comply. Adam should be grandfathered in. Most of the greeters that I have come in contact with are disabled or elderly. Walmart should be ashamed of themselves!! I hope they receive enough mail that they rescind their job description. My thoughts and best wishes go to Adam.

Jason L. Nocito I work students with disabilities including Cerebral Palsy .. My family spends a lot of money with your company . I demand that appropriate accommodations made for this gentleman as well as others in need. It is not always easy to find good employees. Individuals with " Different abilities" are some of the most committed. Please make us proud as consumers and make this right. 

Corey J. Rood If Adam is so incredibly loved by his community, the very customers that fill the coffers of Walmart's Joseph Pultizers, then he's more than even a customer host. He's going above and beyond even that description long before his time. Hats off to Adam! May we "not let those bastards beat us"! Stay the course and fight the good fight good sir.

While businesses shouldn't let internet mob rule direct their businesses, they should pay attention. Community goodwill is important to a business--even a large one like Walmart. They should proceed with caution and consider grandfathering Catlin in, as many have suggested.

Of course, it's also possible that a court would find this job description change a pretext for removing disabled employees from their stores, but it's more likely that Walmart is allowed to change jobs as they want.

Published on: Feb 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.