Walmart is in hot water, and (again) the retail giant is being accused of not treating pregnant employees fairly by forcing pregnant workers at a Menomonie, Wisconsin warehouse to go on unpaid leave and by denying these employees’ requests to take on easier duties during their pregnancy, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on September 21, 2018.
The EEOC, which enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination, says the company has discriminated against pregnant employees since 2014; the EEOC argues that federal law requires employers to accommodate workers’ pregnancies in the same way as accommodations are made for physical disabilities.
History of Bad Behavior?
Walmart, the largest retailer and private employer in the country, has been no stranger to lawsuits regarding workplace discrimination. In addition to this most recent lawsuit in Wisconsin, Walmart is also facing class action lawsuits in Illinois and New York accusing it of denying accommodations to thousands of pregnant workers at its retail stores.
A federal judge in Illinois denied Walmart’s bid to dismiss the claims in March 2018; the case against Walmart in New York is pending. Walmart has said its anti-discrimination policy has listed pregnancy as a protected status for a long time.
The Wisconsin lawsuit began when Alyssa Gilliam, a Walmart warehouse employee, filed a claim; she became pregnant back in 2015, and she claims she requested light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job that would not require heavy lifting. Walmart declined to make changes to her job assignment, and the company later denied Gilliam’s requests for heavy lifting restrictions, additional breaks, and a chair to sit on while working at the Menomonie warehouse.
The EEOC discovered that Walmart refused similar requests from other pregnant employees but that those specific accommodations had been made for employees with qualifying physical disabilities. The lawsuit claims that the refusal to make these accommodations resulted in Gilliam losing her benefits, having to reduce her hours, and being forced to take unpaid leave.
An EEOC district director in Chicago said that Walmart had a light duty program in place with lifting restrictions, but the company “deprived pregnant workers of this opportunity…” which amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law, the EEOC director said.
According to an article in Reuters, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act “prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant women. In a 2015 decision involving United Parcel Service Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court said the law requires employers to provide the same accommodations to pregnant women as it does disabled workers.” These large companies have also been accused of pregnancy discrimination since the Supreme Court ruling: Merck, Amazon, Whole Foods, AT&T and Novartis.
Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesperson said, “Walmart is great place for women to work. We do not tolerate discrimination, and we support our associates by providing accommodations every day across all of our stores, clubs, distribution centers and offices.” Hargrove continued to say that this case is not suitable for class action treatment.