Walmart Settles Nationwide Pregnancy Discrimination Case for $14 Million
Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor
October 29, 2019
Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, has agreed to pay $14 million to resolve a pregnancy discrimination class action lawsuit. The complaint alleged that Walmart had a written policy denying pregnant women the same accommodations that it provided for workers with disabilities.
The three women who brought the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) case, in the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, all sought light-duty accommodations due to pregnancy-related medical restrictions. Supervisors told one of the plaintiffs that rather than provide light duty work, she would have to take an unpaid leave of absence.
Another former employee claimed the company fired her shortly after she requested a copy of Walmart's childbirth leave policies. The woman claimed that a supervisor had previously ignored her request to avoid heavy lifting during her pregnancy.
In its defense, Walmart had asserted that the lead plaintiffs failed to identify any nonpregnant employees who were treated more favorably. The company also claimed there were no statistics to show that its policy had a disparate impact on pregnant workers. It did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in a similar PDA case that United Parcel Service never considered whether it could accommodate a pregnant employee seeking light-duty work while at the same time it was accommodating other nonpregnant workers. While the justices did not decide whether discrimination actually had occurred, the opinion represented a big win for pregnant employees.
UPS changed its policy prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, and Walmart likewise changed its national accommodation in employment policy a few months after this case was filed.
While federal law prohibits pregnancy discrimination, several states go further in their requirements for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.
In an interview with XpertHR this summer about how to prevent pregnancy discrimination, North Carolina employment attorney Robin Shea called light-duty programs "a real trap with pregnant employees." Speaking about pregnancy discrimination generally, Shea said, "I'm still seeing employers who offer "make work" light duty for work-related injuries but do not offer it for anybody else. And that could be a problem under the [Supreme Court's] Young v. UPS standard.