Economy

Pregnant Walmart Worker Alleges Discrimination And Unfair Firing

CREDIT: OUR Walmart

A Walmart mom protests to demand the company commit to better protections for pregnant workers

Thelma Moore was worried about telling Walmart she was newly pregnant after she landed a job there. “I didn’t really want to tell [my supervisor], I didn’t know…if she would treat me differently,” she told ThinkProgress. “I didn’t know if they would say, ‘Well you can’t do the work,’ or feel that I’m disabled.”

Those fears allegedly panned out. She told her supervisor after she started the job. “She started acting differently,” Moore said. “She would walk over to my area at times,” which Moore was required to keep well-stocked and tidy, “and tell me that my zoning area looks like shit. That’s the words she would say to me.”

At first, she thought perhaps she was getting some tough love to help her learn the new job. But “she didn’t act like that or talk like that to me before I told her I was pregnant,” she said. “The way she was looking at me, the demeanor and attitude, I realized, oh okay, it’s because I was pregnant.”

Then she says an accident made things far worse. On a day off, Moore said she went to the store to shop and some TV sets fell on her. She went to the hospital and found out she had heavy bleeding, risking miscarriage, and had hurt her ankle, landing her on crutches. She said that when she went in the next day to fill out medical papers, she was asked to show up for work that evening. Given her medical conditions, she couldn’t work that day, but she did try to get back on light duty after her doctor gave her the go ahead.

But she said she never returned to the job. After what she said was weeks of trying to get back on the schedule and being denied, “They called me and terminated me and told me I had missed too many days.” But she wanted to keep working. “I was very upset that I lost my job.”

Her firing wasn’t just frustrating. She says it landed her and her three-year-old daughter in a homeless shelter for a month. “I was used to working, and a point in time after I was terminated I had to live in a shelter because I couldn’t afford to take care of my family anymore,” she said. “Thirty days living in a shelter with a three year old is hard, and Walmart is to blame for everything that happened to me.”

That’s what prompted her to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over her alleged mistreatment during her pregnancy and her termination after dealing with her medical condition. “That’s the reason why I’m not going to stop fighting,” she said. Walmart did not reply to a request for comment on Moore’s allegations.

She’s not alone in taking action against the company. On Wednesday, she joined a group of moms who work for Walmart in Chicago to call on the company to comply with a list of demands. Those include complying with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; adopting a policy that would give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations to stay on the job safely; accepting pregnancy-related doctors’ notes; installing places for new moms to breastfeed in its stores; raising the minimum wage it pays to $15 an hour; and providing consistent, full-time work.

Pregnant Walmart workers

CREDIT: OUR Walmart

Despite the fact that the company quietly changed its policy for accommodating pregnant workers in March, covering them by existing disability protections, advocates warned that the language was too vague. And then Candis Riggins appeared to prove them right when she said she was denied an accommodation for her pregnancy and then fired over absences. She and A Better Balance, the National Women’s Law Center, and Mehri & Skalet PLLC sent the company a letter alleging that its policy on pregnant workers is out of compliance with the PDA. Other women who worked at Walmart while pregnant have also accused the company of failing to accommodate them.

Walmart is attracting particular attention, but the problem is pretty widespread. The rise in complaints to the EEOC over pregnancy discrimination has outpaced the rise of women joining the workforce, the majority from women who say they were fired for being pregnant. These actions violate existing law, as the government recently clarified, but keep happening anyway.

The good news is that Moore didn’t end up miscarrying — she’s due in a month — and she and her daughter are now back in an apartment. “She’s happy again, so I’m happy, but if I had my job I’d be even happier,” she said.