Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a devastating decision holding that Walmart’s policy of refusing to accommodate pregnant workers in need of light duty does not violate current law. The decision further bolsters the need for Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, establishing an affirmative right to accommodations for pregnant and postpartum workers.
In the case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that Walmart’s temporary light duty policy, which provided light duty to workers injured on the job but not to pregnant workers, violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Walmart’s policy forced pregnant workers to lift heavy objects, at risk to their health, or go on unpaid leave, at risk to their ability to put food on the table. One employee, who had kept working after being denied light duty because she needed her paycheck, began to bleed, as the fetal heart rate dropped.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of A Better Balance and its partners, Walmart’s policy no longer excludes pregnant workers from light duty accommodation. But we need broad changes to the law, not just to individual employer policies.
Under current law, in order for pregnant and postpartum workers to merit accommodations for pregnancy-related medical needs, they must show that their employer accommodated other workers who were “similar in their ability or inability to work,” an onerous standard not in place for workers with disabilities who need accommodations. Although Walmart plainly accommodated workers who had a similar inability to work as pregnant workers—workers injured on the job—the Seventh Circuit held that the company’s justification for doing so was legitimate and nondiscriminatory and, thus, lawful.
That’s plain wrong. Yet, as we documented in our Long Overdue reports, it’s all too common for courts to permit employers to deny pregnant workers accommodations under existing law.
The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would fix that. The PWFA, which has already passed the House and has the votes it needs to pass the Senate, would close gaps in the law and ensure that pregnant workers have a clear, affirmative, and unmistakable right to the accommodations they need to stay healthy and on the job. Write your Senator to demand the Senate act without delay to pass the PWFA.