Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.
Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters. The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.
In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested “light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job” to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told “light duty” was only available “to employees on workers’ compensation.”
Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. She said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.
In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctor’s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.
The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.
By contrast, Walmart “accommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.”
“For example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,” the suit reads.
“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.”
Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmart’s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.
“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” she said. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”
The EEOC said it is seeking “full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.”
In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the company’s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.
“Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law,” he said.
The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, including Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was “a great place for women to work.”
According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.