XPO closes Verizon warehouse plagued by harassment, pregnancy bias claims
- XPO Logistics will shutdown the Memphis, Tennessee, warehouse where workers alleged widespread sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, according to the New York Times. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has claimed that the closure is retaliation against workers who publicized misconduct and discrimination. XPO Logistics, which uses the warehouse to ship Verizon cellphones and other products, said it is closing the site because Verizon decided to stop operating there.
- In October 2018, the Times published an investigation which included reports that pregnant workers miscarried after supervisors denied them doctor-recommended light duty. "[XPO is] just cutting and running and closing the place instead of addressing the problem of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment," Teamsters president Jim Hoffa told the times. He said the union, which has been attempting to organize the warehouse workers, may file a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
- Although the Times reported that more than 400 workers stand to lose their jobs with the warehouse closing, Lissa Perlman, an XPO spokeswoman, said most of employees would land jobs at 11 other nearby facilities. Verizon spokesman Rich Young said the company would continue doing business with XPO. In a letter to employees, XPO announced that terminations will begin on April 15, 2019.
The situation at the Memphis XPO warehouse may offer employers a lesson in handling complaints before they transform into issues that draw national attention. According to the accounts of employees in the Times report, supervisors had several occasions to prevent or rectify problems that, instead, resulted in grave consequences.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination based on pregnancy. The law arguably obligates employers to grant pregnant employees the same accommodations they extend to others. "While [the PDA] doesn't require accommodations itself, if an employer provides light duty or similar to employees on workers' comp or with cancer, for example, the employer would have to provide similar accommodations to a pregnant employee," Randy Gepp, an employment litigation attorney with Taylor English, previously told HR Dive.
Pregnant workers also can have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pregnancy complications can rise the level of disability, entitling pregnant workers to reasonable accommodations.
Whether XPO failed to comply with these laws remains unclear but it's worth noting how other companies have recovered from high-profile issues. A manager's mess-up at a Starbucks drew international attention after the police were called on two black men who were waiting for another person in a Philadelphia store. The franchise closed all of its stores for several hours of racial bias training following the incident, missing out on $12 million in revenue. It may not have pleased everyone, but it provided a great example of damage control.