For years I worked two jobs to support my family as a stocker at Wal-Mart on the overnight shift and a packer by day for a large medical supply company. As a newly married mother of three daughters, I was very excited when I learned that I was pregnant.
At Wal-Mart I routinely lifted heavy merchandise from pallets and arranged it on shelves throughout the store. Shortly after I became pregnant, my doctor told me not to lift more than 20 pounds.
I turned in my doctor’s note to both my employers. The medical supply company immediately placed me on light duty and reassigned me to an area where I packed light items for shipping. Wal-Mart initially put me on light duty, letting me work in the toothbrush aisle, lifting smaller items. Soon afterward, Wal-Mart told me that no light duty assignment was available and assigned me to the produce area and then the refrigerator aisle, where I had to lift heavy cases of food onto shelves.
One day at Wal-Mart I started bleeding while I was lifting heavy merchandise. I told my boss, and he ignored me. I finished working the overnight shift. After I went to my medical supply job that morning and told the manager I had been bleeding, the manager took me to the emergency room. The trip confirmed my worst fears—I had lost my baby.
Four months later, I became pregnant again. When I submitted a note from my doctor explaining that I should not lift more than ten pounds, Wal-Mart refused to give me a light duty assignment. It turns out that Wal-Mart has a policy that employees who aren’t disabled cannot be reassigned to another position, even though the policy says this option is available to employees with disabilities. So that meant I wasn’t protected.
Wal-Mart asked me to fill out some forms, which I later learned were Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) papers. The company wanted to put me on involuntary leave, which I didn’t want to take because I needed to keep working to earn money for my family. And I had planned to use my leave after my baby was born. Since I was healthy and able to work, my doctor said I wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave; I simply needed a lifting restriction. When I told Wal-Mart I couldn’t fill out the FMLA paperwork because I was able to work, Wal-Mart told me I wasn’t allowed to come back to work, and I was eventually fired. Shortly after I stopped working at Wal-Mart, I miscarried for a second time. My doctor identified work-related stress and depression as possible causes of my miscarriage.
I filed suit against Wal-Mart for discriminating against me when I was pregnant. Both the lower court and appeals court decided in favor of Wal-Mart, saying that I had failed to identify a non-pregnant coworker with a lifting restriction who had been accommodated, even though Wal-Mart had a policy of accommodating workers with disabilities.
The financial and emotional stress coming from all the tension at work, my two miscarriages, and suddenly being without one of my jobs led to many fights between my husband and me. We eventually divorced, which tore my family apart and devastated me. I had to see a psychologist to help get me through these emotional difficulties. On top of everything, I was struggling to make ends meet. At times, I thought my family and I would end up on the street.
Svetlana Arizanovska continues to work as a packer for the medical supply company, where she has been a loyal employee for nearly a decade.
It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, a report from A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center, features this and other stories of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Click here to read the other stories and learn more.