Walgreens Faces EEOC Lawsuit for Pregnancy and Disability Discrimination

Expectant working mothers must understand their protections under the law. Pregnancy can be a time of great joy and anticipation when women undergo physical and emotional changes. While a happy time, it can also be a time of great stress and trepidation if accommodations for the health of the mother and child are ignored.

A Walgreens employee who struggled with diabetes and hypoglycemia faced a difficult choice at the hands of the pharmaceutical giant. She suspected her pregnancy might be jeopardized when she began spotting at work. When she spoke with her manager, she was told she would have to wait to seek medical attention until they found someone to take her place at work. She was not allowed to leave since the manager did not find a replacement for her. Her employer informed her that she had already asked for too many accommodations.

The pregnant woman faced an impossible choice: her baby or her job. It was a choice no one should have to make. But, on her doctor’s advice, she was forced to resign for her baby’s health.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has since taken up the case and filed suit against the pharmaceutical company. Management at Walgreens did not do their part to prevent the loss of her child.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that an employer does not penalize an employee for miscarrying or for complications she might face due to her pregnancy. Often pregnant women are encouraged to keep their pregnancies private until they have passed their first trimester since most miscarriages occur in the first trimester.

Although, a miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy within the first twenty weeks. Whether the pregnant employee has announced her pregnancy or not, she is entitled to protection under the law.

Spotting during pregnancy is common and can have many causes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. So, pregnant women need to take that symptom seriously. The March of Dimes suggests that when spotting occurs, a pregnant woman should take time off work and their feet. Depending on the amount of bleeding, hospital stays are sometimes necessary.

The possible causes of the bleeding could be more life-threatening as well. The risk of uterine tears or even uterine rupture should be ruled out. The life of the baby and the mother are factors when bleeding during pregnancy occurs. A doctor or medical professional should examine the pregnant woman and evaluate the situation.

Employers cannot legally inhibit their pregnant employees from seeking necessary medical attention. Hopefully, an employee experiencing pregnancy complications will be treated compassionately. But, cases like the sales associates at Walgreens happen, so legal protections are in place to aid the employee at risk of miscarriage.

Overview of Accommodations Pregnant Women can Expect

Pregnant employees are entitled to accommodations that can make their jobs safer for themselves and their babies. While some of these allowances may seem obvious, employers and employees must understand what is expected.

Agencies must not adhere to written or unwritten employment policies that exclude applicants from employment because of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions that accompany pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Pregnant women should be allowed to do their jobs as long as possible without their employers making assumptions about an employee based on the stereotyping of pregnant women.

Companies may not withhold assignments or promotions because of pregnancy, childbirth, or the conditions surrounding these instances. Protections in the workplace are established to protect employees, but businesses are not required to set up further protections for pregnant staff.

However, preventions to avoid complications due to illness or disabilities related to pregnancy should be implemented. These could include slight modifications, frequent bathroom breaks, eating more often, being allowed to carry a water bottle, and providing a place to sit if necessary.

State laws may allow for more accommodations.

How to Take Leave During Pregnancy

Here is an overview of what expectant mothers are entitled to legally if they need to take time off due to pregnancy complications.

  • Employers must hold a job for a pregnant employee who must take leave for the length of time employment would be held for any other worker who requires sick leave.
  • The employer cannot dictate the length of time a pregnant worker must wait before returning to work after childbirth.
  • If the pregnant woman has worked for the company for at least 12 months, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) allows for 12 weeks of paid or unpaid maternity leave to be taken after childbirth.
  • Miscarriage is considered a serious health condition by FMLA. When an eligible mother faces a significant health risk such as miscarriage, she has the right to take unpaid leave. To be eligible, after twelve months of employment, the employee must work for a business with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the company. During those 12 months, the employee must have clocked in 1,250 hours.
  • FMLA allows for 12 weeks of leave per year. So, suppose an eligible employee found themselves at work, experiencing a possible miscarriage. In that case, they are entitled to use the time they take off to care for this severe condition as part of their 12 weeks.
  • Individual state laws concerning sick leave vary. But, a worker experiencing a miscarriage might be entitled to sick leave pay or time off.
  • Some states provide temporary disability wage replacement. And these provisions may benefit an employee experiencing a miscarriage.

Protections Provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA)

Though often a physical hardship, pregnancy isn’t considered a disability. But some of the conditions that accompany pregnancies can be. The ADA provides certain protections if a pregnant staff member is experiencing these conditions.

Conditions That Qualify for ADA Protection

Many conditions can cause suffering and compromised health during pregnancy:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Sciatica
  • Morning Sickness
  • Swelling in Feet and Legs
  • Carpal Tunnel
  • Depression

Health is the Goal

The goal of the employer and the pregnant employee should be managing the pregnancy and all of the health issues surrounding it to ensure the employee’s optimum health for herself and her baby. This can be done by taking a few common sense steps.

Sadly, the Walgreens employee’s needs went unmet. She was likely uninformed about the protections to which she was entitled. She resigned on the advice of her healthcare provider. She miscarried at the end of the day.

Let an experienced lawyer from Asbill Law Group help you understand your legal options. Contact us online or by calling 916-877-4227.