Breaking news! Walmart has bowed to pressure from A Better Balance and our allies to improve its policies for pregnant workers! This is a huge development for low-wage working women. As detailed in the Washington Post, “anytime the world’s biggest retailer changes how it treats its workforce–especially women, with whom the company has a fraught history–the rest of the industry tends to take notice.”
The path to this victory began with an email to A Better Balance in 2012. We heard from Brittany,* a 28-weeks-pregnant Walmart worker who was sent home because she needed a modest accommodation on the job in order to stay healthy. Alarmed by this story, we sent a letter to Walmart’s general counsel, outlining the ways in which Walmart’s treatment of pregnant workers violated the law. After further investigation, ABB, joined by the National Women’s Law Center, and Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, filed a class action pregnancy discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Walmart and its discriminatory policy.
“Three months before my baby was born, Walmart forced me out the door,” said Kathy,* the Walmart sales associate at the center of the EEOC charge who was seven months pregnant when Walmart refused to accommodate her restrictions despite routinely accommodating workers with a wide array of non-pregnancy-related disbailities. “I was doing my job as a sales associate just as I had been for months, but suddenly I lost the paycheck that my family was counting on—simply because I was pregnant.”
What happened to Kathy and Brittany is part of a larger national trend at Walmart, in which pregnant workers are treated like second-class citizens in violation of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
After we filed our charge with the EEOC and after two Walmart workers proposed a shareholder resolution, with our assistance, demanding changes, Walmart announced its new Accommodation in Employment policy, which now explicitly states that temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy are eligible for the same reasonable accommodations as other disabilities.
Although a major win, this policy change does not go far enough: Walmart can continue to evade its legal obligations and force pregnant workers off the job if they are not considered “disabled” under the policy.
“While we are enthusiastic about this policy change, there is still work to be done,” said Dina Bakst, Co-Founder & Co-President of A Better Balance. “Over and over again, Walmart has failed to accommodate pregnant workers. Many pregnant women without illnesses or complications are advised by their doctors to stay off tall ladders, drink water throughout the day, or take other steps to prevent health problems. Walmart must further update its policy to make clear that it will provide reasonable accommodations for all pregnant workers who need them, regardless of whether they are ‘disabled.’ The Pregnancy Discrimination Act mandates equal treatment, nothing less, and we will continue to fight until Walmart obeys the law in full. No woman should have to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy.”
Thank you for all that you do,
Sherry, Dina, Phoebe, Jared, Elizabeth, Risha, Liz, & Rachel