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Press Release: Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges Walmart’s Absence Control Policy Discriminates Against Pregnant Workers

Press Release: Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges Walmart’s Absence Control Policy Discriminates Against Pregnant Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Contact: Lorraine Kenny, 212-430-5982 x165 (o), 917-532-1623 (m) lkenny@abetterbalance.org

NEW YORK – A Better Balance filed a class-action lawsuit today, challenging Walmart’s “no-fault” absence control policy as systemically violating the rights of women who need leave for pregnancy-related illnesses or medical care.  The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of two former Walmart employees who were fired—in violation of New York state law—after their pregnancy-related hospital visits were deemed “unauthorized,” triggering their termination. It is the first class action brought under the New York law.

“Walmart’s ‘no-fault’ absence control policy flouts New York’s pregnancy accommodation law by punishing pregnant workers for lawful absences.  No pregnant worker, many fearing miscarriage, should be fired for seeking emergency medical care.   Walmart must immediately change its policies to comply with this law and ensure that no pregnant worker is forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a pink slip,” said Dina Bakst, Co-President and Co-Founder of A Better Balance.

Walmart’s absence control policy assigns “points” against hourly employees if they miss a shift, arrive late, or leave early without prior approval.  Employees who accumulate a certain number of points can be disciplined or fired.  The retail giant enforces this policy at its stores across the country. Today’s lawsuit alleges that Walmart defies New York’s Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (PWFA) when it punishes employees under its absence policy even if the absence is due to a pregnancy-related health condition. Since 2016, the New York PWFA explicitly guarantees pregnant workers the right to reasonable accommodations for any pregnancy-related conditions, including leave for medical care.

Plaintiffs include Kaitlyn Hoover and Leigha Klopp, whose case was filed in New York State Supreme Court, Orleans County. They are seeking relief on behalf of a presumptive class of similarly-situated pregnant workers across the state and calling on Walmart to change its policies and practices to conform to state law.

Ms. Hoover was a jewelry associate at a Walmart Supercenter in Albion, NY. In March 2017, Ms. Hoover learned she was pregnant. Within weeks, she began to suffer from severe pregnancy-related nausea. She vomited continuously for three days and became dehydrated. She called into her store before her shift and spoke to a manager to let her know she was worried about her pregnancy and needed to go to the hospital. The manager said it would “count against [her]”.  Nevertheless, Ms. Hoover went to the hospital; she spent four hours there, unable to keep down any medication until she received fluids intravenously.  When she returned to work for her next scheduled shift, her manager fired her, telling her that the absence was not excusable and that “We [referring to Walmart] don’t take doctors’ notes.”

“I was devastated when Walmart fired me. I had a baby coming and all of a sudden I couldn’t pay my bills,” said Ms. Hoover. “I am bringing this lawsuit because what happened to me was wrong and I want to make sure that Walmart is held accountable so that other pregnant women won’t be treated like I was.”

Ms. Klopp worked in the apparel department at Walmart. She learned that she was pregnant in December 2016.  In January 2017, she began to feel dizzy at work and feared she may be having a miscarriage. When she told two managers that she needed to go to the hospital, she was told it would be “marked against [her]” if she left her shift early. Feeling that she had no choice, she left and went to the hospital. When she returned to work, armed with a doctor’s note, one of her managers put up her hand to stop her and said, “I don’t want that.” Ms. Klopp received half a point for her absence.  A few months later, Ms. Klopp woke up vomiting blood. She called the store to tell them that she was going to the hospital, on the advice of her obstetrician, and that she would need to miss her shift. Again, her managers told her she would incur a point for her absence – and this time, she would have “too many points” and would be fired. Nevertheless, she went to the hospital.  When she returned for her next shift, Walmart fired her.

For more information about Walmart’s absence control policy, see A Better Balance’s report, Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences. The report is based, in part, on a survey of current and former Walmart employees done in conjunction with Our Walmart (Organization United for Respect), a national nonprofit that works to ensure the workplace rights of Walmart Associates. The report alleges that the company unlawfully punishes pregnant, disabled, and other employees who need to care for themselves and for seriously ill loved ones.

According to Girshriela Green, an organizer at the Organization United for Respect, pregnant women at Walmart across the country continue to come forward with stories of mistreatment and are speaking out for change.  “Women at Walmart are calling on the company to respect the law and provide safe working conditions for pregnant women,” said Ms. Green.

Currently, 23 states—including New York—and 5 cities have laws that provide stronger protections for pregnant workers than federal law. See, Map of State and Local Pregnant Worker Fairness Acts.

Today’s complaint is available here.

A Better Balance is a national legal nonprofit fighting to give American workers the time and flexibility they need to care for their families without risking their economic security. We are a leader in the movement to reshape laws and workplace practices to fit the needs of today’s labor force. www.abetterbalance.org

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