News Law and Policy

Lawsuit: Walmart Discriminated Against Pregnant Workers

Nicole Knight

“Pregnancy discrimination is a huge problem that disproportionately affects low-wage workers, like those at Walmart," said Dina Bakst of A Better Balance.

Two former Walmart employees last week filed a class action lawsuit in federal court, claiming the retail giant discriminated against them and thousands of pregnant workers by failing to provide on-the-job accommodations.

The lawsuit alleges that while the $231 billion company makes on-the-job accommodations to many non-pregnant workers, Walmart fails to accommodate pregnant workers. Walmart’s policies and practices, according to the 25-page complaint, amount to “intentional discrimination.”

Walmart employs nearly 1.2 million people in the United States, 784,000 of whom are women, according to the complaint and a 2015 company report.

The suit was brought by two former Walmart workers who became pregnant while employed at Walmart stores in Illinois and Florida. Both workers filed discrimination complaints against Walmart with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies, according to the complaint.

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Otisha Woolbright, a former bakery and deli clerk in Florida, claims she was terminated because of her pregnancy and need for pregnancy-related accommodations, according to the complaint. Woolbright told her supervisor her doctor had said to avoid any heavy lifting. Woolbright claims her supervisor told her she had seen a pregnant Demi Moore do a somersault on television, and pregnancy was therefore “no excuse.”

It wasn’t until Woolbright went to the hospital after lifting a 35-pound tray of rotisserie chickens that the company allowed her to do sedentary work, according to the complaint. She was later let go after asking about pregnancy leave.

While working at an Illinois Walmart, Talisa Borders was refused pregnancy accommodations when she showed her employer a doctor’s note saying she could not lift more than 25 pounds or climb ladders, according to the complaint. Borders claims a Walmart human resources training coordinator, who reviewed her request for accommodations, forced Borders to take more than two months of unpaid leave, rather than accommodate her pregnancy. When Borders returned to work after having a baby, she was assigned a job that paid $8.85 per hour—$2 less than her previous job in Walmart’s Pharmacy Department, the complaint alleges.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company’s policies have always fully met or exceeded state and federal law, and its anti-discrimination policy offers more protection than the law requires.

“That policy has long listed pregnancy as a protected status,” Hargrove, senior director of national media relations, said in an email to Rewire. “We deny the claims of Ms. Borders and Ms. Woolbright and plan to defend the company.”

Walmart revised its written policy in 2014 to offer accommodations for temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy. But it did so only after pregnant workers filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging the company’s policy amounted to pregnancy discrimination, as Rewire reported.

Attorneys who brought the suit said Walmart’s policies and practices continue to force pregnant people to choose between a job and a pregnancy.

“In 2017, it’s incredible that major companies like Walmart are discriminating against pregnant women—who are simply asking to keep on working and have a healthy pregnancy,” said Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “Pregnancy discrimination is a huge problem that disproportionately affects low-wage workers, like those at Walmart.”

Walmart has prevailed in class-action decisions, showing it’s difficult to hold corporations accountable in these types of cases, as Rewire reported. The U.S. Supreme Court in Wal-Mart v. Dukes revoked the class-action certification of female Walmart workers, who alleged the retailer engaged in unlawful discrimination in pay and promotions. The Court found the women didn’t have enough to hold them in common in their claims against Walmart.

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