Update: April 30, 2020: A federal district court judge approved the settlement April 29, stating that it "is the result of extensive, arms' length negotiation by counsel well-versed in the prosecution and defense of employment class actions and is substantively fair, reasonable, and adequate."
- Walmart will pay $14 million to settle a class action alleging it had a discriminatory written policy that denied pregnant workers the same benefits as other similarly situated workers (Borders v. Wal-Mart Inc., No. 17-cv-0506 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 15, 2019)). The court filing says this case "was one of the first, if not the first, in the nation in which private plaintiffs brought claims of pregnancy discrimination on behalf of a class of women who were denied workplace accommodations because of pregnancy."
- The lawsuit was triggered when a pregnant worker who had a medical restriction against lifting more than 25 lbs. was allegedly denied light duty even though light duty was available to workers injured on the job who were otherwise similar in their ability to work. The worker says Walmart told her she had to take an unpaid leave of absence pursuant to company policy. Other workers came forward with similar allegations.
- The class consists of approximately 740 Walmart employees whose pregnancy accommodation requests were allegedly denied. Walmart is not, as part of the settlement, conceding the truth of the allegations or all of the facts as presented by the plaintiffs.
Walmart has found itself in a lot of legal hot water lately. Though it was able to defeat a terminated employee's age bias allegations by showing a legitimate, non-biased reason for the firing, a jury recently awarded a Walmart cart pusher more than $5 million in a disability bias lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A separate EEOC lawsuit, filed earlier this month, claims the retailer failed to allow an applicant with a disability to take a physical assessment. Additionally, back in August, a Walmart in Washington, D.C., paid out $100,000 to settle EEOC allegations that it had refused to accommodate two deaf employees.
Class actions alleging pregnancy bias aren't always possible if the claims are too fact-specific. Here, however, a broadly applied policy allegedly affected numerous women across multiple states in a similar way.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides that discrimination against employees or applicants on the basis of childbirth, pregnancy, or related medical conditions constitutes illegal sex discrimination. Pregnancy alone is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but conditions linked to or caused by it may be.
The law is clear that pregnant employees who are able to continue performing their jobs must be allowed to do so. If, however, a pregnant employee is temporarily unable to perform a job, the worker must be treated the same as any other employee with a temporarily disability in terms of opportunities for light duty, modified tasks, alternative assignments, unpaid leave or disability leave.