The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination "because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." In 2015, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., that employers must offer accommodations to pregnant employees that are at least equivalent to those provided to employees with disabilities.
In the Young case, a part-time UPS driver became pregnant and was medically restricted from lifting more than 20 pounds. At the time, UPS drivers were required to be able to lift 70 pounds. UPS offered light-duty assignments for people with injuries or disabilities but refused to provide Ms. Young with the identical accommodation because she wasn't injured or disabled.
The Supreme Court ruled that employers who deny accommodations to pregnant women but grant them to others are in likely violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. To avoid liability, they must show that they have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for denying the accommodation.
According to a recent lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it seems that Walmart should have read the Young case more closely. The agency is suing on behalf of a worker at a Walmart distribution center in Wisconsin who says she was denied reasonable accommodations for her pregnancy.
The lawsuit alleges that, when the plaintiff became pregnant, she made a series of requests meant to help her avoid heavy lifting during her pregnancy:
- Light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding position
- A shorter work day
- Additional breaks
- A chair
The company denied all those requests, which allegedly forced the plaintiff to reduce her hours, lose her benefits and take unpaid leave.
Yet the EEOC found that Walmart had "a robust light duty program" to accommodate workers with disabilities who had lifting restrictions.
"But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law," the EEOC said in a statement.
Walmart denies the allegations and claims its accommodation policies "have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law."
This is not the only pregnancy discrimination case pending against Walmart, however. Two class actions have been filed in New York and Illinois alleging that accommodations have been denied to thousands of pregnant employees at Walmart's retail stores.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers unless doing so would create undue hardship. When the very same accommodations are widely offered to employees with disabilities, it's difficult to argue that they would create undue hardship. If your employer has refused your reasonable accommodation request, discuss your case with an employment law attorney.