Judge denies Walmart’s motion to dismiss EEOC suit regarding pregnant workers

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,519 views 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) won the first battle in its federal civil lawsuit against Walmart Inc., filed on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and a class of pregnant employees at its distribution center in Menomonie, Wis. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, denied the retailer’s motion to dismiss the class on Wednesday (Jan. 29).

“At this early stage, it is not necessary for plaintiff to identify the non-pregnant employees who were treated differently or the nature of their job functions or accommodations,” Crabb noted in her order citing (Carlson, 758 F.3d at 827.)

The judge noted plaintiff is not required to plead “existence of similarly situated comparator,” citing (Concentra Health Services, 496 F.3d at 780.)

“Plaintiff might sometimes have a right to relief without knowing every factual detail supporting its right; requiring the plaintiff to plead those unknown details before discovery would improperly deny the plaintiff the opportunity to prove its claim,” Crabb noted. “Accordingly, defendant’s motion to dismiss will be denied.”

EEOC filed the original complaint Sept. 20, 2018, and Walmart immediately objected to the suit proceeding as a class action. The government agency said it sought legal remedy after a failed attempt to settle with Walmart in a pre-litigation investigation.

Plaintiffs claim Gilliam was not allowed to participate in a company program that accommodated other worker’s restrictions. EEOC said its pre-litigation investigation indicated Walmart had a robust light-duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated, noting the retailer “deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in a light duty program, which violated federal law by discriminating against pregnant workers.

Walmart sent the following statement to Talk Business & Politics regarding the merits of this case.

“This order relating to allegations at one of our distribution centers in Wisconsin comes at the early stages of the case and is not a decision on the merits. The matter now moves into the fact finding phase. Walmart has always been a great place for women to work and we do not tolerate discrimination. Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law and this includes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. We will continue to defend the company.”

The suit claims Gilliam lost her benefits because of reduced hours, and she was also forced to take unpaid leave. Gilliam said early in her pregnancy she asked Walmart whether the company would accommodate pregnancy-related living restrictions. The complaint said she was told that was only available to employees on workers compensation. She asked for a transfer to a lighter duty job, but those requests were denied, the suit said. The suit said her only option was to transfer to a part-time job which resulted in loss of benefits. Her requests for a chair and additional breaks as needed were denied. After she furnished a doctor’s note saying her lifting was to be restricted to 5 pounds or less, Walmart placed her on unpaid leave, in accordance to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The complaint said she was on unpaid FMLA leave for two months before delivering her baby, time she would have liked to continue working.

“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy. The unlawful employment practices complained of were intentional. The unlawful employment practices complained of were done with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Gilliam and the class of female employees,” the suit said.

Plaintiffs are asking for full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.

The suit — EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, LP, d/b/a Walmart Distribution Center #6025, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-783 — is being heard in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.