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Lawsuit: Walmart Continues to Discriminate Against Pregnant Workers

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A new charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accuses the retailer of failing to accommodate pregnant workers with temporary disabilities.

Walmart continues to discriminate against pregnant workers despite changing its employment policies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for the company’s pregnant employees.

Those are the allegations in a new charge filed Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The charge was filed by the National Women’s Law Center, A Better Balance, and a private law firm on behalf of Candis Riggins, a former Walmart employee who claims the retail giant discriminated against her when she was pregnant.

Riggins’ job responsibilities at Walmart included cleaning bathrooms with toxic chemicals that were causing her to become ill while she was pregnant, according to the EEOC charge. When Riggins asked Walmart for temporary relief of those duties, she was denied. Without the accommodation, Riggins was left no choice but to call out sick a number of times, and was eventually fired.

“I made it clear to my supervisors that I wanted to keep working and that I could do several other jobs well,” Riggins said in a statement following the filing of the complaint. “I just needed to keep away from the chemicals, but Walmart said, ‘No,’ even though I know they gave light duty to a coworker of mine when he hurt his back. Finally, I was forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my paycheck. No pregnant worker should have to make that decision.”

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Tuesday’s charge is the most recent accusation against the mega-retailer of abusive labor practices against its pregnant employees. In March, the same legal organizations filed an initial complaint with the EEOC on behalf of a nationwide class of women workers asserting that Walmart has a nationwide policy and practice of pregnancy discrimination based on its failure to accommodate pregnant workers.

Walmart, shortly after the EEOC complaint was filed, revised its written policy, stating that the store will provide reasonable accommodations for temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy.

But according to the compliant filed Tuesday, Walmart denied Riggins her accommodations while she was pregnant, even after the retailer changed its accommodations policy.

“Walmart has made only the bare minimum of accommodations for its pregnant workers,” said Ellen Eardley, partner at Mehri & Skalet, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm and one of the attorneys involved in the matter. “Walmart’s policy accommodates women with disabilities caused by pregnancy, but in practice Walmart does nothing to accommodate the vast majority of pregnant women who are healthy, yet still may need a temporary change in duties.”

The groups allege that Walmart’s written policy providing “reasonable accommodations” for temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy doesn’t go far enough. In order to comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the superstore must make accommodations available to all pregnant workers, the advocates say.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act mandates equal treatment, nothing less, and we will continue to fight until Walmart obeys the law in full,” said Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “Walmart should heed the part of its slogan that says ‘live better’ by not making life worse for its pregnant employees.”

The EEOC charge on behalf of Riggins comes just two weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service, which addressed the scope of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act and what legal obligations employers have to accommodate pregnant workers.

The charge also comes on the heels of recent legal defeats for Walmart.

A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge this month ruled the retailer had illegally intimidated employees in California, while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just affirmed a $151 million judgment against the retailer for wage theft after workers at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Pennsylvania were forced to work off the clock and when they were supposed to be on break.

Walmart is reportedly considering appealing the Pennsylvania decision to the Supreme Court.

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