At today’s State of the State Address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced several legislative proposals to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, several of which follow recommendations A Better Balance proposed during testimony offered last month before the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Leigha Klopp worked in the apparel department at Walmart in upstate New York. In December 2016, she found out she was pregnant. She was really looking forward to becoming a mom, and in early January she let her co-workers and managers know the good news.
Toward the end of January, she started to feel like something wasn’t quite right. One day, she began to feel very sick at work. She was dizzy and in pain. She feared she may be having a miscarriage so she found her two supervisors to let them know that she needed to go to the hospital because she was worried about her pregnancy. Their response: if she left her shift early it will be “marked against you.”
Walmart maintains a “no-fault” absence control policy that 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 policy is particularly harmful to pregnant workers like Ms. Klopp who need time away from work to seek pregnancy-related emergency medical care. Moreover, in the case of Ms. Klopp, the policy flouts New York’s Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which explicitly guarantees pregnant workers in the state the right to reasonable accommodations for any pregnancy-related conditions, including leave for medical care.
Worried about accumulating points, yet frightened that her pregnancy was in danger, Ms. Klopp left and went to the hospital. When she returned to work, armed with a doctor’s note, her manager 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, she 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 manager told her she would incur a point for her absence – and this time, she would have “too many points” and would be fired. Heeding her doctor’s advice, she went to the hospital. When she returned for her next shift, Walmart fired her.
As extreme and inhumane as Ms. Klopp’s experience may sound, it is not an isolated incident. At A Better Balance, we regularly hear from Walmart employees who are fired under similar circumstances. Our report, Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences alleges that the retail giant unlawfully uses its “no-fault” absence policy to punish pregnant, disabled, and other employees who need to care for themselves and for seriously ill loved ones.
That’s why we filed a class-action lawsuit, today, in New York state court, challenging Walmart’s “no-fault” absence control policy as systemically and unlawfully violating the rights of women who need leave for pregnancy-related illnesses or medical care. The case is brought on behalf of Ms. Klopp and another former Walmart employee, Kaitlyn Hoover, who was also fired after she needed time away from work when she was pregnant and started continuously vomiting and became dehydrated. She ended up spending four hours in the hospital unable to keep down any medications until she received fluids intravenously. When she returned to work for her next scheduled shift, Walmart fired her.
We are seeking relief on behalf of a class of similarly-situated pregnant workers across the state, and calling on Walmart to change its policies and practices to conform to state law. We are hopeful that a change in New York could lead to change nationwide, affecting the lives of the more than 1.5 million associates Walmart employs across the country. Pregnant women should not have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a pink slip no matter where they work or who they work for.