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Walmart Accused of Unlawfully Punishing Pregnant Hourly Workers

Nicole Knight

"Walmart must immediately change its policies to comply with this law and ensure that no pregnant worker is forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a pink slip."

Walmart has systematically violated the rights of women who missed work due to unscheduled pregnancy-related illnesses or medical care, according to a class action complaint filed Tuesday in New York against the $250 billion company.

A pair of former hourly Walmart workers allege in a court filing that the corporation fired them for seeking treatment in a hospital for extreme nausea, vomiting, severe cramps, and fears of miscarriage. Although the women told their supervisors they would miss work and later furnished doctors’ notes, the retail giant considered the absences unauthorized under its “absence control” policy, the women allege.

Dina Bakst, co-president and co-founder of A Better Balance, the legal nonprofit that brought the lawsuit, said the Walmart policy “flouts New York’s pregnancy accommodation law by punishing pregnant workers for lawful absences.”

“Walmart must immediately change its policies to comply with this law and ensure that no pregnant worker is forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a pink slip,” Bakst said in a statement.

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With 1.5 million workers in the United States, the retailer is the nation’s largest private employer, according to the complaint.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the corporation would look into the claims and that “legally protected and authorized absences” such as pregnancy are not counted against its attendance policy. “We take these issues seriously and do not tolerate discrimination,” Hargrove said in an emailed statement to Rewire.News.

The complaint is the first class action suit brought under the state’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, according to a statement from the plaintiffs’ attorneys. New York is among 23 states with laws granting employment protections to workers in need of on-the-job accommodations while pregnant.

Under Walmart’s “absence control” policy, hourly workers who rack up too many “points” for unscheduled leave or tardiness face automatic termination, according to the complaint. The two former workers allege that Walmart counted their pregnancy-related leave against them.

In March 2017, Kaitlyn Hoover, a jewelry associate at a Walmart Supercenter in Albion, told her manager she was vomiting, worried about her pregnancy, and needed to go to the hospital. Her manager told Hoover the absence would “count against [her],” according to the complaint. The manager later rebuffed Hoover’s offer of a doctor’s note, saying, according to the court filing, “We,” referring to Walmart, “don’t take doctors’ notes.”

Hoover was then fired, as was a second pregnant plaintiff, Leigha Klopp, whose pregnancy-related emergency room trip was counted against her under Walmart’s absence policy, according to the complaint. Neither woman has since been able to find a job.

“Women at Walmart are calling on the company to respect the law and provide safe working conditions for pregnant women,” Girshriela Green, an organizer at the workers’ rights group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, said in a statement.

The complaint is the latest allegation of pregnancy discrimination filed by A Better Balance against Walmart. Last year, two former Walmart workers 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.

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