Walmart — a chain store that is notorious for underpaying its workers and treating its female employees like shit — has allegedly fired a pregnant female employee after ostensibly changing its policy to better accommodate pregnant women. Color me shocked.
In early March, Walmart quietly changed its terrible pregnancy policy to make it less egregiously terrible, stating that pregnant women "may be eligible for reasonable accommodation" if a "temporary disability caused by pregnancy" causes them to "need assistance to apply for a new job, or to perform the essential functions of a job." Critics said that the new policy still wasn't good enough, arguing that it was too vaguely-worded — as Emily Martin from the National Women's Law Center pointed out, the word 'disability' "invites a lot of frankly ridiculous conversations about whether the medical accommodation you received is based on the pregnancy itself, or illnesses associated with the pregnancy."
And it seems that the critics were right! As Bryce Covert reports at ThinkProgress, Candis Riggins, a former employee at a Walmart in Maryland, alleges that she was fired after she had difficulty performing her maintenance job due to her pregnancy.
According to Riggins, she struggled with lugging heavy cleaning supplies around the store; in addition, the harsh chemicals she had to use to clean made her feel extremely ill, to the extent that she had to go to the hospital several times. "[At the hospital] they asked me what kind of work I do," she told Think Progress. "They said this is basically the cause, taking in all of these chemicals and fumes you shouldn't be taking in, basically breaking me down while I was pregnant."
Though she asked several times for a reasonable accommodation — being switched to the cash register, for instance — she was repeatedly denied. Which is strange, because the Walmart branch she worked at went on to hire other cashiers while she was stuck "cleaning back rooms and basically still getting sicker and sicker," as she put it. As a result of this, she had to call out a few times, but she was assured it was fine: "Every time I would call out I would speak to the manager, they would inform me that it was okay, they understood I was pregnant," she said. However, in May, she was fired and told it was because of her absences. Without income, she and her newborn and her two other children have been evicted from their apartment. Oh, yeah, Walmart is definitely totally serious and sincere about Empowering Women.
On Thursday, A Better Balance, Mehri & Skalet, PLLC and the National Women's Law Center sent Walmart a letter on Riggins' behalf arguing that the new policy is still not in compliance with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act:
Even after Walmart's new Accommodation in Employment Policy went into effect, and after Ms. Riggins notified her manager of her medical need for an accommodation, Walmart refused to engage our client in a good faith interactive process to assess the availability of a temporary transfer or other form of reasonable accommodation that would have permitted her to continue working. As a result, Ms. Riggins lost her job, robbing her of critical income that she desperately needs to support herself and, now, her new baby. Enforcement guidance released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this month makes clear that Walmart's treatment of Ms. Riggins is in violation of federal law.
They also demand that Walmart reinstate Riggins and make sure that she's "adequately compensated for the time prior to childbirth when she was unable to work as a result of Walmart's failure to make reasonable accommodations," and, furthermore, that the corporation get its shit together, policy-wise, in order to actually ensure that pregnant workers are treated fairly.
Let's hope that the company actually makes the necessary changes this time around.
Image via Getty.