“We just heard from Amber Austin,” HR Director Cal Norris told supervisor Frieda Kohl. “Actually, from her lawyer. She’s suing us for pregnancy discrimination.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, after she just stopped showing up for work,” Frieda said. “But I don’t see that she has any grounds for a suit.”
“She says she miscarried, and it’s our fault for not accommodating her,” Cal said. “She claims it was the heavy lifting here that did it.”
“She miscarried once before, so obviously she has a tendency to lose her babies,” Frieda said. “That’s not our fault.”
“She says both her miscarriages were because we wouldn’t accommodate her,” Cal replied. “Look, I don’t believe we did anything wrong, but you and I need to go over the whole thing before we talk to our lawyers.”
“OK,” Frieda said. “You know that stock handlers like Amber have to be able to lift up to 30 pounds. Well, the first time Amber told me she was pregnant, she had a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t lift more than 20.”
“I tried to help out and gave her light work for a couple of shifts, but the third or fourth day I needed her back on the heavier stuff,” Frieda went on. “So I moved her back there. And, yeah, a couple days later she miscarried.”
no light work
“Under our policy, you didn’t have to give her light work at all,” Cal put in. “You could have insisted she apply for an open position elsewhere in the store, or take a leave of absence. That’s what we do for everybody with a short-term health issue that isn’t work-related.”
“I know,” Frieda said. “I’ve applied the policy to other people in the past. So, when Amber got pregnant again a couple of months later, and had a 10-pound lifting restriction, I told her we had no light work for her. I said she’d have to take leave, per the policy.”
“But she insisted she wasn’t sick, and needed to keep working, but on something light, like folding clothing,” Frieda said. “She accused me of being heartless when I refused. She left, and that was the last time I saw her.”
“Apparently she miscarried for the second time a few days later,” Cal said. “That doesn’t look good for us, but I think we acted properly.”
Did Amber win her pregnancy discrimination case?
No, a judge said the company didn’t discriminate against Amber because of her pregnancy.
The key: Supervisor Frieda applied the company’s across-the-board policy on short-term disability in the same way to Amber as she had to others.
The judge said employers are under no obligation to treat pregnant employees better than other workers with short-term medical conditions. And that is essentially what Amber was asking for.
Cite: Arizanovska v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 1:09-cv-1404, S.D. Ind., 9/22/11.
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox