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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal discrimination laws in the workplace, has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for discriminating against pregnant employees. This suit was filed in Wisconsin, though the EEOC has almost identical class-action claims pending against Walmart in both New York and Illinois, representing thousands of employees.
At issue is whether Walmart can deny pregnant workers paid leave and employee modification requests, such as additional breaks, eliminating heavy lighting, and allowing use of a chair.
EEOC Claims Walmart Gives Disabled Workers More Accommodations Than Pregnant Workers
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, under which the EEOC has filed this claim, prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant women. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that employers must provide the same accommodations to pregnant women as it does to disabled workers.
The EEOC claims it can prove that Walmart offered other non-pregnant disabled workers a robust light duty program with lifting restriction, but didn't offer this accommodation to its pregnant employee, Alyssa Gilliam, who became pregnant in 2015. As a result, Gilliam reduced her hours, was forced to take unpaid leave, and lost her benefits, seemingly in violating of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Walmart Claims Its Pregnancy Accommodations Fall Within Legal Guidelines
Walmart claims that its pregnancy policies fall well within federal standards, and looks forward to its day in court. According to Walmart spokesperson, Randy Hargrove, "Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law." As for the two class-actions, Walmart has denied all of those claims, and said its anti-discrimination policy has long listed pregnancy as a protected status. The Illinois judge dismissed Walmart's request to dismiss the suit, and the New York lawsuit is currently pending.
According to federal law, employers must offer pregnant employees the same accommodations it offers disabled workers, which must meet or exceed the American Disability Act and Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as of 2015.
If your company's pregnancy policy hasn't been reviewed by an attorney since this became law in 2015, contact a local employment lawyer. A trained attorney can review your policy, compare it to federal, state, and local law, and either assure you that it is within proper guidelines, or offer you a number of established recommendations to bring your policy within legal limits.