Pregnant Workers are Suing Walmart for Discrimination

Pregnant women who work at Walmart allege that they have been unlawfully punished for health-related absences—and face the threat of losing their jobs for seeking out proper medical care.

Walmart, the largest company by revenue and largest private employer in the world, maintains a “no-fault” absence control policy toward its 2.3 million workers. The policy punishes all absences equally with a “three strikes, you’re out” point system, which leaves ample room for unfair discrimination against absentees who must call off work due to uncontrollable health circumstances.

That includes pregnant women, who have medical needs employers are required to accommodate under existing anti-discrimination laws. Walmart, however, appears to operate in ignorance of those policies.

Kaitlyn Hoover and Leigha Klopp suffered the policy’s wrath personally, and now they’re two of many workers fighting back. On Tuesday, they joined with advocates to bring a lawsuit before the New York State Supreme Court seeking its demise—and demanding justice be served.

A 2005 protest in Utah against Wal-Mart. (Brave New Films / Joey Caputo)

Hoover discovered she was pregnant while working as a Walmart jewelry associate in Albion, New York. After vomiting for three days straight, she became dehydrated and requested to call off work to go to the hospital, fearing for the future of her pregnancy; her manager responded with a warning that the absence would “count against [her].” With no other option, Hoover admitted herself and spent four hours inside receiving fluids intravenously because she could not hold down any medication. When she arrived for her next shift, her manager fired her—declaring that her absence was inexcusable and claiming that Walmart does not accept doctor notes.

“I was devastated when Walmart fired me,” she said. “I had a baby coming and all of a sudden I couldn’t pay my bills. 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.”

Klopp became dizzy and feared it was due to a miscarriage while at work—and when she informed her two managers that she needed to leave to go the hospital, she was similarly warned that the call off would count as a strike. Months later, Klopp awoke and began vomiting blood, and she needed to miss her shift to go to the hospital. When she called in and explained her situation, Klopp was informed that if she did not show up to work she would lose her job.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday with A Better Balance, a non-profit law organization focused on fighting for worker rights, argues that Walmart’s policy has illegally ignored New York’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) by punishing its pregnant employees for absences.

The state law, modeled after national legislation proposed repeatedly by members of Congress but which has yet to pass out of the chamber, pointedly protects pregnant workers’ right to have accommodations for any pregnancy-related health conditions, including permission to leave work for medical care.

The lawsuit demands Walmart to heed state laws and revise its policy. “Walmart’s ‘no-fault’ absence control policy flouts New York’s pregnancy accommodation law by punishing pregnant workers for lawful absences,” said Dina Bakst, Co-President and Co-Founder of A Better Balance. “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.”

For many pregnant workers across the country, their employment at Walmart is the only source of income for themselves and their families. By ignoring local, state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination toward those with disabilities, illness or are pregnant, Walmart has continued to place the value of corporate revenue over the livelihoods and health conditions of its workers. But enough is enough. Women workers will no longer tolerate being punished for meeting the medical needs and demands of their pregnancies.

“Walmart can do better, and Walmart must do better,” A Better Balance stressed in its statement. “Workers and the advocates standing with them will not stop pushing until Walmart treats its workers fairly.”


Eleanor Salsbury is a former editorial intern at Ms.