Reyna García, a 30-year-old woman who works for the California grocery chain Albertsons, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the company refused to accomodate her pregnancy, which led to the death of her baby, the Huffington Post reports.
In her complaint, she says “that she presented her superiors with three separate doctor’s notes explaining her high-risk pregnancy and asking that her job duties be restricted,” the Huffington Post’s Dave Jamieson reports. Her role as merchandise manager involves loading and unloading pallets of heavy goods, climbing ladders, and moving pallet jacks carrying hundreds of pounds of product. She told her store manager that she has a history of pre-term delivery, but her requests to be shifted to lighter duty at the deli counter or in customer service were denied, her complaint states. She kept working because she couldn’t afford to lose the income and health insurance.
One day last November, she asked to leave work while in pain, but her request was denied and she continued her heavy lifting duties. She went into labor that night and rushed to the hospital. There she was informed that her baby was losing fluid and sustaining brain damage. She gave birth two days later, but the baby only lived for a few minutes.
According to the suit, Jamieson writes, “Baby Jade’s death over those several minutes was the most painful thing Ms. García had ever experienced.”
One of García’s lawyers told the Huffington Post that her managers failed to fulfill their responsibilities under a California law that requires an employer to find a “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant workers. Albertsons hasn’t filed an official response to the suit and told the HuffPost, “We have no comment on pending litigation. However, our company does have a proactive policy of accommodating pregnancy related disabilities.”
García’s story, while heartbreaking, is sadly not unique. In a collection of stories from the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance about women whose pregnancies weren’t accommodated by their employers, a worker named Yvette recounted how her manager refused to let her avoid heavy lifting when she became pregnant and “he actually responded by giving me more heavy lifting to do,” she says. The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Svetlana Arizanovska worked as a stocker for Walmart when she got pregnant, lifting heavy merchandise from pallets, but her doctor told her not to lift more than 20 pounds. The company initially put her on light duty in the toothbrush aisle but then reversed its decision. One day she started bleeding while lifting heavy merchandise, but her boss ignored her when she told him what had happened. When she went to the emergency room after her shift she found that she had lost her baby.
Other women have had less deadly but still difficult problems. Some have been forced to go on unpaid leave, missing out on income and using up the leave they would have taken after they have their babies. Others were fired or pushed out of their jobs.
These problems are widespread and growing. More than 3,700 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year and complaints rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007. Women are also far more likely to work while pregnant now: nearly two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, compared to less than half in the 1960s. Nine out of ten stay on the job into their last two months of pregnancy and more than 80 percent work into the last month.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 barred discrimination on “the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” yet many of these practices persist and some have been given a pass by the courts. This is why the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was re-introduced in May, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who experience pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless it would impose an undue hardship. Yet while House Republicans have found time to vote on other reproductive care, the act has yet to garner a hearing or a vote.