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Walmart Denied Motion to Dismiss in Pregnancy Discrimination Class Action

On March 29, 2018, Judge Reagan in the Southern District of Illinois denied defendant Wal-mart’s July 31, 2017 motion to dismiss in its entirety, allowing plaintiff employees and relevant class members to proceed with their discrimination and retaliation claims against them.

This case, filed on May 12, 2017, concerns two named plaintiffs, Talisa Borders (Wal-mart employee in IL) and Otisha Woolbright (Wal-mart employee in FL) bringing claims for violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act on behalf of a class of all current and former female employees of Walmart at stores nationwide who were subject to certain pregnancy policies between March 2013 and March 2014. The named plaintiffs also brought individual retaliation claims under Title VII.  The court rejected Wal-mart’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on grounds that Wal-mart’s substantial operations in IL is the “exceptional case” rendering the corporation subject to general personal jurisdiction in the state outside the paradigmatic forums (outside the place of incorporation or the principle place of business). The court also rejected Wal-mart’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In denying this motion, the court (1) rejected Wal-mart’s argument that plaintiffs failed to meet procedural requirements (rejecting both the argument that Woolbright failed to exhaust EEOC administrative remedies and that Borders lacked standing) and (2) found that plaintiffs plausibly pleaded their PDA claims of disparate treatment and disparate impact sex discrimination as well as their individual Title VII retaliation claims.

Talisa Borders was employed by Walmart in O’Fallon, IL between July 2012 and April 2017. After becoming pregnant in early 2013, O’Fallon nearly slipped off a ladder during the course of her job duties. Following this incident, and fearing for her own safety and the safety of the fetus, her co-workers began assisting her when she was required to use the ladder or to life heavy objects in the course of her job duties. Talisa was required to present a doctor’s note indicating that she needed ladder climbing assistance form co-workers and limited heavy lifting to accommodate her pregnancy-related restrictions. Instead, her accommodation was refused and she was forced to take an unwanted, unpaid leave of absence for a nearly 4 month period. When she returned to work, her position was changed and her pay was lowered.

Otisha Woolbright was employed by Walmart in Jacksonville, FL between August 2013 and January 2014. After learning she was pregnant in September 2013, she started to experience pain and bleeding; fearing miscarriage or serious complication, she visited the emergency room. There, she was informed – and her discharge papers reflected – that she had a high risk of miscarriage. The discharge papers further recommended she avoid heavy lifting. Woolbright attempted to show the discharge papers to her supervisor and tell her supervisor about the lifting restrictions, but was told that she should leave if she could not perform her job tasks. Woolbright was also refused a transfer to a job that did not require any heavy lifting. She was only, eventually, offered accommodations after sustaining an injury while lifting a tray weighing between 35 and 50 pounds on the job. In January of 2014, Woolbright was fired after inquiring about time off after childbirth.