Wal-Mart Facing Discrimination Class Action Over Treatment of Pregnant Workers

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Santa Clara, CA: Wal-Mart is facing a potential discrimination class action lawsuit alleging the world’s largest retailer discriminates against pregnant women.

Filed by Talisa Borders and Otisha Woolbright, the complaint claims Wal-Mart forced pregnant workers to perform tasks that employees with similar limitations were excused from.

Specifically, the lawsuit states: “Under its constellation of policies and practices, Wal-Mart accommodated a large percentage of non-pregnant employees with physical limitations but failed to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant employees with physical limitations arising out of pregnancy.”

The named plaintiffs seek to represent a class consisting of all pregnant women who worked as Wal-Mart employees and were denied accommodations between March 2013 and March 2014, the period during which the defendant issued a revision to its disability accommodation policy that changed how pregnancy was classified.

The suit states that managers at Wal-Mart’s O’Fallon, Illinois, store where Borders worked, refused her request to follow her doctor’s advice and avoid climbing ladders and heavy lifting. Rather, Wal-Mart placed her on unpaid leave, according to the suit. When Borders returned to work, she was not reinstated to her old position in the store pharmacy but was instead assigned to a number of lower-paying positions, the complaint asserts.

Further, according to plaintiff Woolbright, who worked as an associate at a Jacksonville, Florida, location, she was denied permission to follow medical advice and avoid heavy lifting or a transfer to another position until she sustained an on-the-job back injury. Woolbright states she was terminated just three days after requesting information on the company’s childbirth leave policies.

According to the proposed class action, Wal-Mart had a three-tier disability policy, up until March 2014, with employees who sustained on-the-job injuries, pregnant employees and employees with all other disabilities receiving different treatment.

“Wal-Mart’s policies and practices provided that the only modifications or adjustments available to pregnant employees were those that would be both ‘easily achievable’ and ‘which will have no negative impact on the business,’” the complaint states. “Non-pregnant employees with disabilities, on the other hand, were entitled to ‘reasonable accommodations’ so long as the change would not create an ‘undue hardship’ for the company.”

Consequently, Borders was denied ladder and lifting accommodations that were granted to employees with similar medical limitations from on-the-job injuries, and Woolbright’s accommodation was denied until she sustained her on-the-job injury, the suit asserts.

The suit states that while the potential class size is unknown, based on statistics, about 48,000 Wal-Mart employees would have become pregnant during the relevant period, meaning the number of denied accommodations is likely “several thousand.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Donna L. Harper and Mary Anne Sedey of Sedey Harper Westhoff PC, Cyrus Mehri, Michael D. Lieder, U.W. Clemon and Brett D. Watson of Mehri & Skalet PLLC, Dina Bakst and Elizabeth Gedmark of A Better Balance, and Emily Martin and Andrea Johnson of the National Women’s Law Center.

The case is Talisa Borders et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., case number 3:17-cv-00506, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

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