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Massachusetts jury awards $2 million in Wal-Mart bias suit

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- A state jury in Massachusetts awarded almost $2 million to a former employee of Wal-Mart Stores after finding the retailer underpaid her and then fired her as a result of gender discrimination.

The woman who brought the suit, Cynthia Haddad, worked at Wal-Mart as a pharmacist from 1993 through 2004, before she was fired by the company, according to court papers.

The world's largest retailer has been plagued by complaints of underpaying its workers. It is also facing the biggest sexual discrimination case in U.S. history. In that separate litigation, which has been granted class-action status, plaintiffs are charging the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company underpaid and underpromoted women.

In her suit, Haddad charged she was fired for demanding that the company pay her the wage differential and bonuses she was owed for filling a managerial position on an interim basis. She also claimed she was reprimanded for reporting missing drugs to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Also according to her suit, Wal-Mart officials told her she had been fired for failing to keep the pharmacy secure.

The Massachusetts Superior Court jury in Pittsfield made its decision on Tuesday.

"For me this suit was about getting my identity back," Haddad said in a telephone interview. "It really has not sunk in yet and I am overwhelmed. But it is great to have someone listen to you and believe you."

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said the retailer might appeal.

"We respect the jury's decision, but we feel that it did not reflect the facts in the case, so we are studying the decision and have not ruled out an appeal," he said in a phone interview. "Ms. Haddad was dismissed because of numerous violations of company policy."

Haddad lives in the Western Massachusetts town of Pittsfield, about 130 miles (209 km) west of Boston and is working as a pharmacist at an independently owned pharmacy.

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