Two female ex-employees of Walmart, Otisha Woolbright and Talisa Borders, along with A Better Balance, National Women’s Law Center and DC-based law firm Mehri & Skalet,have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming their superiors treated thousands of pregnant workers as “second class citizens”.
Two female ex-employees of Walmart, Otisha Woolbright and Talisa Borders, along with A Better Balance, National Women’s Law Center and DC-based law firm Mehri & Skalet,have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming their superiors treated thousands of pregnant workers as “second class citizens”. They alleged that their requests to limit heavy lifting, climbing on ladders and other potentially dangerous tasks during their shifts while pregnant were ignored. The proposed class action lawsuit, which could include at least 20,000 women and up to 50,000 others who worked at the retailer while carrying a child prior to policy changes, was filed in Illinois federal court. The plaintiffs state that until 2014, Walmart had a company-wide policy denying pregnant women the same accommodations as workers with disabilities even though they physically could not complete the same tasks as they could prior to conception.
Walmart denied the women’s discrimination claims and pursued class action in a public statement issued by Randy Hargrove saying the company’s policies “have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law”, and citing that the company has had an anti-discrimination policy listing pregnancy as a protected status in place for years. The company also issued a statement, saying “Walmart is a great place for women to work.” However, Woolbright and Borders say that their former employer’s policy violated a federal law imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2015 case involving the United Parcel Service which requires employers to treat pregnancy as a temporary disability, providing pregnant women with needed accommodations. Although Walmart changed its specific policy in 2014 to begin treating pregnancy in this way, the plaintiffs alleged the law doesn’t include everything it should to be in compliance with federal laws and they stated they plan to file a separate lawsuit related specifically to this issue.
Woolbright said her manager at the Florida-based Walmart told her being pregnant was “no excuse” for not doing heavy lifting. She was fired from the deli department after injuring herself lifting heavy trays of rotisserie chickens that weighed up to 50 pounds and inquiring further about the company’s pregnancy policies. “In response to Ms. Woolbright telling Ms. Blalock that she was given instructions by her doctor to avoid heavy lifting, Ms. Blalock told Ms. Woolbright, ‘If you can’t do [heavy lifting], you can walk out those doors.’ She also made a statement expressing concern that Ms. Woolbright was ‘a liability’ and trying to ‘cost Walmart money.’
Borders, who worked at an Illinois-based Walmart, says she was issued a warning after asking co-workers to climb ladders and lift heavy boxes while she was carrying her child, and was forced to go on unpaid leave. A supervisor allegedly told Borders she’d need to provide a note from her doctor to continue working. When she did, Borders was denied that request by the store’s human resources training coordinator. When she eventually was able to return following her leave, she says, Walmart refused to reinstate her at her former position, which meant she was paid $2.00 less per hour.
“Up until at least March 2014, including the times during which Ms. Borders and Ms. Woolbright were pregnant,” the potential class action suit states, “Walmart maintained a constellation of policies and practices governing modifications and accommodations offered to employees in need of changes in the workplace due to health issues. In creating separate categories for 1) disabilities, 2) pregnancy or other medical conditions, and 3) work-related injuries, Walmart set up a graduated system of workplace modifications that explicitly excluded pregnant employees from a wide variety of accommodations and adjustments for which non-pregnant employees, similar to pregnant employees in their ability or inability to work, were eligible.”