The nationwide retail chain Savers engages in a pattern and practice of discriminating against employees like Betazaida Cruz Cardona, who was fired because she was pregnant, according to allegations in a compliant filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization, and the law firm Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP filed the charge on behalf of Cruz, a former cashier in the company’s Henrietta, New York, store. While a Savers employee, Cruz became pregnant and had complications that required her to call in sick from work and seek treatment at an area hospital, according to the allegations in the discrimination charge.
Cruz alleges that she notified her manager of her illness and brought doctors’ notes so that Savers knew why she was not at work and when she would be able to return.
Cruz, after being unable to work for a week, called her employer and asked to be put back into the schedule. Cruz claims that her manager then told her she could not return to work until she first obtained a note from her doctor stating she could work and identifying any work restrictions.
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Cruz complied and obtained a note from her doctor that said her only work restriction was to avoid lifting any more than 25 pounds, something Cruz had never been asked to do in her four months working as a Savers cashier, according to the discrimination charge.
In response to this note, Cruz claims her managers told her that she could not work and that she should go home to take care of her pregnancy. The Savers store eventually fired her.
“I was able and wanted to continue working as a cashier, but as soon as I brought a note saying I was pregnant and shouldn’t lift more than 25 pounds, my manager told me I was ‘terminated’ and should ‘stay home and take care of my pregnancy,’” Cruz said in a statement announcing the discrimination charge.
“Savers policy states it accommodates workers with disabilities, but pregnant workers are treated like second-class citizens,” said Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance. “Ms. Cruz shouldn’t have been punished simply for trying to maintain a healthy pregnancy.”
Cruz’s attorneys said her termination proved devastating. Cruz, who is expecting her first child in April, was unable to pay her rent. She’s now homeless, according to her attorneys.
The charge filed with the EEOC also alleges that Savers and its subsidiaries have engaged in a pattern and practice of pregnancy discrimination. Another pregnant woman was similarly pushed out of her job at Unique Thrift, a subsidiary of Savers, when she requested an accommodation, according to the charge.
A Better Balance sent a letter explaining the legal violations to Unique Thrift, who then permitted the pregnant woman to return to work with an accommodation and back pay.
“We are concerned that this is not an isolated incident, and that hundreds of Savers employees nationwide are subject to similar discriminatory conduct,” Elizabeth S. Saylor, a partner at Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP, said in a statement. “Savers must adopt a new policy that clearly states that it will not discriminate against pregnant employees and will provide accommodations to those who need them.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue of just what obligations employers have to accommodate pregnant employees in UPS v. Young. That case involves Peggy Young, a former delivery driver for UPS, who became pregnant and requested a modification to her job assignment after her doctor told her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
UPS denied her request, citing their “pregnancy-blind” policy that refused workplace accommodations like light-duty assignments to any employee unless they were injured on the job, qualified as disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or lost their federal driver’s certificate. Because Young’s circumstance did not fit into any of those categories, she was instead forced to take unpaid leave, which meant a loss of her health insurance during her pregnancy and delivery.
UPS later agreed to change its policy but still defended it before the Roberts Court in December, arguing that businesses should have the discretion to refuse pregnancy accommodations like Savers is alleged to have done to Cruz.
The Roberts Court has not released its decision yet in UPS v. Young.