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Achondroplastic Dwarf Loses Job

A woman named Beavers can’t smile. They say it’s a medical condition. I say it’s her name which has built in porn star appeal.

ST. PETERSBURG – Molly Beavers lost her smile early on in her 19-year career of pushing food samples and collecting grocery carts she could barely see over.

Her scowl may have cost her the job.

A Sam’s Club manager fired her in December 2003 for not smiling enough, she says. Beavers’ face is partially paralyzed from surgery related to her condition as an achondroplastic dwarf.

Beavers, 49, filed an Americans With Disabilities Act complaint in federal court Friday, alleging that Sam’s Club and parent company Wal-Mart discriminated against her when they fired her. She claims they knew about her health problems and failed to accommodate her.

The complaint says Beavers is seeking a jury trial, but Beavers says she’s really seeking an apology and some compensation for the last two years she has been unemployed.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher declined to speak about the lawsuit.

“I can tell you that Wal-Mart’s policy prohibits discrimination of any kind,” Gallagher said.

Beavers is also one of the 5,000 women alleging Wal-Mart discriminated against them in a high profile class-action lawsuit that’s working its way through the courts.

Although partial paralysis has saddled her with a permanent frown, Beavers said she lived for her food demonstration job.

She commuted by bus each morning for one hour from St. Petersburg to the Clearwater Sam’s Club along Gulf to Bay Boulevard to offer tastes of biscuits and gravy and pigs-in-a-blanket to Sam’s Club customers.

She started working for a Sam’s Club’s predecessor, Pace Membership Warehouse, on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County in 1984, when she was 28. She rode her bicycle about 10 miles to and from work every day, until a car hit her and left her unconscious, battered and bruised.

Beavers said she can’t remember the exact date of the surgery that paralyzed her face but that it occurred when she was working at Pace and it was to correct a glandular disorder.

Now, a slight upward curl of her right cheek sends painful muscle spasms shooting down the right side of her lower face.

When Sam’s Club bought the Pace Membership Warehouse in 1993, the company treated Pace employees as if they had always been Sam’s Club employees, keeping their pay and benefits.

Beavers said she had worked for the companies so long, she earned full benefits and made $10 an hour.

She said her problems at work began earlier in 2003, when she tripped in a produce aisle drainage hole and fell to the ground. Her demonstration cart and microwave oven toppled over on her, she said.

Beavers filed a workers’ compensation claim. Sam’s Club did not process the claim nor pay for treatment, the federal complaint states.

Although Beavers recovered, back problems lingered. When she asked to sit on a stool while working, her manager would not allow it, the lawsuit states.

Beavers said a few older employees were allowed to sit on stools.

Later, when new store manager Ralph Lail fired her, he told her it was because she didn’t smile enough at customers and co-workers, the lawsuit states. When Beavers explained her facial paralysis, Lail said, “that’s no excuse,” according to the federal filing.

Beavers said she was devastated, because she couldn’t live on her own anymore.

“What I liked best was making money and being dependable – all on my own,” said Beavers, who recently filed to collect federal disability payments, which she received as a child.

When church pastor Jackie McMillan of Clearview Methodist Church heard about Beavers’ problems, she asked another church member, Bonnie Self of St. Petersburg, to take her in. Beavers has been living with Self for two years.

“When they agreed to help her and take her in, it was a wonderful thing for her,” McMillan said.

Her church friend hooked Beavers up with the Impact Fund in Berkeley, Calif., which is leading the litigation for women accusing Wal-Mart of discrimination.

The Impact Fund interviewed Beavers in 2004, said Mary Broughton, a paralegal there. Broughton declined to talk specifically about Beavers’ case.

Beavers said she misses work but wouldn’t work for Sam’s Club again, even if she was offered her old job back at $10 an hour.

“I hope I never see them again. I don’t want to see them again,” Beavers said. “I won’t say nothing if I do see them, but it just hurts me inside.”

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