Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.
Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters.Â The suit was filed Friday on behalf ofÂ Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.
In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested â€ślight duty or transfer to a less physically demanding jobâ€ť to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told â€ślight dutyâ€ť was only available â€śto employees on workersâ€™ compensation.â€ť
Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. SheÂ said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.
In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctorâ€™s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.
The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.
By contrast, Walmart â€śaccommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.â€ť
â€śFor example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,â€ť the suit reads.
â€śDefendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.â€ť
Julianne Bowman, the EEOCâ€™s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmartâ€™s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.
â€śWhat our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,â€ť she said. â€śBut Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.â€ť
The EEOC said it is seeking â€śfull relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmartâ€™s practices going forward.â€ť
In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the companyâ€™s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.
â€śOur 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,â€ť he said.
The nationâ€™s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, includingÂ Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was â€śa great place for women to work.â€ť
According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission.Â
About the Author:Â Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper. Send her tips here: firstname.lastname@example.org.