Mother of two was forced on unpaid leave during her pregnancy for not lifting heavy merchandise
ATLANTA—Today, three legal organizations that brought a class action lawsuit against Walmart earlier this year for discrimination against pregnant workers filed a new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge against the superstore. The charge is on behalf of Whitney Tomlinson, a Walmart worker and 30-year-old single mother of two living in Griffin, GA, who was pushed onto an unpaid leave of absence when she submitted a doctor’s note citing some lifting restrictions due to her pregnancy. As a result, she suffered severe financial hardship during an already vulnerable time.
“I want Walmart to make real changes so that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Ms. Tomlinson. “Walmart could have easily provided a way for me to keep working during my pregnancy, but they wouldn’t.”
The legal groups— A Better Balance, the National Women’s Law Center, and Mehri & Skalet, LLC—say that while Walmart changed its policies to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers with “temporary disabilities,” the policy change doesn’t go far enough to fully comply with the law. Even pregnant workers not deemed disabled by Walmart sometimes need accommodations for their health and the law requires equal treatment for these workers. Earlier this year, wo additional former Walmart employees who suffered from pregnancy discrimination brought a class action lawsuit claiming that the retail giant discriminated against thousands of pregnant women across the country. That lawsuit focused on a time period prior to when Walmart changed its policies in March 2014.
“While we have closely monitored Walmart’s treatment of pregnant workers since they changed their policies, it’s clear they remain out of step with the law and are pushing pregnant workers out when they need income the most,” said Dina Bakst, Co-Founder & Co-President of A Better Balance. “These unfair and illegal policies are devastating for workers who can least afford to go without income.”
“Walmart must update their policy to ensure that pregnant workers are no longer pushed off the job at the moment they can least afford it,” said Emily Martin, General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “This is not only common sense, but it makes good business sense, too.”
“Our clients must be fully compensated for their losses,” said Ellen Eardley, a partner at the law firm Mehri & Skalet, PLLC. “Walmart cannot get away with discrimination and treating their pregnant workers like second-class citizens.”
Three years ago, the three legal groups filed a charge on behalf of Candis Riggins, from Maryland, whose job responsibilities—including cleaning bathrooms with toxic chemicals—were causing her to become ill while she was pregnant. When Ms. Riggins asked for temporary relief of those duties, she was denied. As a result, Ms. Riggins called out sick a number of times, and was eventually fired.
The groups are also representing Juanita Fischer in her legal efforts against Walmart. In the fall of 2015, Walmart told her they do not have any policy for accommodating pregnant workers and that the only accommodation she could get would be under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She requested accommodations for the health of her pregnancy, but her requests were denied. In early 2016, she was terminated the day after she slipped at work and hit her pregnant stomach on the edge of a sink and went to the emergency room. Ms. Fischer filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in Louisiana. Ms. Riggins’ and Ms. Fischer’s charges are both still pending before the EEOC.
Note: Ms. Tomlinson and representatives from the legal groups are available for interviews.
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.