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EEOC sues Walmart for failing to accommodate pregnant women

"What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated," the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a statement. "But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law."

That is the basis for a lawsuit the EEOC has just brought against a division of Walmart. The suit was brought on behalf of a worker at a Walmart Distribution Center in another state. She became pregnant in 2015 and, in order to avoid heavy lifting during her pregnancy, she requested either light duty or a transfer to a job with fewer physical demands.

The company denied those requests, so she followed up with requests for a shorter work day, additional breaks, or even a chair. Walmart denied all of them, causing her to have to reduce her hours, lose her benefits and take unpaid leave.

According to the EEOC, her situation is all too common at that particular Walmart Distribution Center, so they propose to have the lawsuit certified as a class action. Moreover, Reuters reports that Walmart is facing other class actions in New York and Illinois in which it is accused of denying reasonable accommodations to thousands of pregnant workers.

A spokesperson for Walmart, America's largest private employer, denied the allegations. It also says that its accommodations policy has always met or exceeded the requirements of both state and federal laws.

However, if the EEOC's allegations are factually true, Walmart may wish to reconsider. In the 2015 case of Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court provided some clarity on what kinds of accommodations are required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination according to sex.

In the Young case, pregnant UPS drivers were denied reasonable accommodations for pregnancy when people with disabilities were granted similar or identical accommodations. Such a scenario, the court ruled, could constitute illegal discrimination between pregnant and non-pregnant workers. Unless the company had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the difference in treatment, failure to accommodate the pregnant workers' reasonable requests could violate Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

If Walmart does have a "robust light duty program" where it accommodates the needs of a large percentage of workers with disabilities, it could be breaking the law by failing to extend that program to pregnant workers.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work due to your pregnancy, have your case evaluated by an experienced employment law attorney.

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