U.S. Lawsuit Accuses Walmart of Bias Against Pregnant Employees

By | September 24, 2018

Walmart is again being accused of violating federal law by failing to accommodate workers’ pregnancy-related medical restrictions.

According to a lawsuit brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Alyssa Gilliam and a class of pregnant employees at Walmart’s Distribution Center in Menomonie, Wis., were not allowed to take part in a company light duty program that is designed to accommodate other workers’ restrictions.

“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” said Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago who managed the federal agency’s pre-suit administrative investigation. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove called Walmart a “great place for women to work” and said the company plans to defend itself against the allegations.

Hargrove also said Walmart has updated its accommodations policy over the last several years and its policies “have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law and this includes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”

The giant retailer faces at last two other class action lawsuits alleging pregnancy discrimination, one in New York and one in Illinois. The Illinois lawsuit similarly accuses the firm of denying requests by pregnant women to limit heavy lifting, ladder climbing and other potentially dangerous tasks. The New York case targets Walmart’s absence policy, with two former employees charging they were fired for missing time due to pregnancy medical issues.

The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits pregnancy discrimination in employment.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, LP, d/b/a Walmart Distribution Center #6025, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-783) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The EEOC is seeking full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.

“By accommodating a large percentage of its non-pregnant employees with light duty work while denying those same accommodations to pregnant workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work, Walmart acted in contravention of the law,” Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, said.

Walmart provides “accommodations every day across all of our stores, clubs, distribution centers and offices,” according to Walmart’s Hargrove. “This case is not suitable for class treatment, and we deny the allegations,” he told Insurance Journal.

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