Following a class action lawsuit filed by A Better Balance, the National Women’s Law Center, and local counsel, Walmart has updated its worker accommodation policy to explicitly make women eligible for a reasonable accommodation if she experiences a temporary disability caused by pregnancy. The policy change puts Walmart in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but advocates say that the new policy may still allow discrimination against pregnant workers who do not have a disabling illness or injury related to pregnancy but who still need a reasonable accommodation in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
“While we are enthusiastic about this policy change, it does not go far enough,” said Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance. “Over and over again, Walmart has failed to accommodate pregnant workers. Many pregnant women without illness or complications are advised by their doctors to stay off tall ladders, drink water throughout the day, or take other steps to prevent health problems. Walmart must further update its policy to make clear that it will provide reasonable accommodations for all pregnant workers.”
The complaint against Walmart filed earlier this year alleged that the superstore had a nationwide policy and practice of discriminating against pregnant workers by failing to make reasonable accommodations for those who needed them. At the center of the case was a Walmart sales associate who had been refused accommodations when she was seven months pregnant and forced to take unpaid leave. “Three months before my baby was born, Walmart forced me out the door,” she said. “I was doing my job as a sales associate just as I had been for months, but suddenly I lost the paycheck that my family was counting on – simply because I was pregnant.”
Discrimination against pregnant women has been a growing problem in the US. Between 1992 and 2011, pregnancy discrimination complaints in the United States increased by 71 percent. In the period 2010-2012 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 11,757 such complaints. Despite being illegal to fire someone for being pregnant, women are often forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancy or fired after requesting small accommodations recommended by a physician but not honored by their employer – including sitting on a stool or the ability to carry a water bottle.
Persistent discrimination against pregnant workers led to the introduction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in May of 2013. Among other things, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.
Media Resources: A Better Balance 4/7/2014; National Women’s Law Center Press Release 4/7/2014; Washington Post 4/5/14; Feminist Majority Blog 10/31/13; Feminist Newswire 3/15/2013