Kajko, Weisman & Colasanti, LLP

Can you be fired for being pregnant?

If you are a female Massachusetts worker who answered "no" to the above question, thinking such a thing could not possibly happen in this day and age, you may wish to think again based on what recently happened to a pregnant Georgia employee. As reported by CNN, a woman employed in the Walmart Distribution Center in Atlanta developed morning sickness one day last summer while at work. The chain of events that followed is almost unbelievable, but nevertheless took place.

The woman requested permission from her male supervisor to take an early break to recover from her symptoms. Rather than responding in an understanding manner, he told her that her request constituted a "special privilege" requiring a note from her doctor. He also did not grant her permission to call her doctor and set up an appointment. When she finally saw her doctor, he gave her a note stating that she should refrain from doing any heavy lifting at work while pregnant.

Walmart's pregnancy policy

On presenting this statement to her supervisor, he instructed her to take it to Human Resources rather than giving it to him. Despite the fact that she had often received help with heavy lifting prior to becoming pregnant, Human Resources immediately told her that she must take a leave of absence for which she would not be paid. They justified this by telling her that her pregnancy presented a liability to Walmart. Nonplused, humiliated and furious, but not wishing to protest and possibly lose her job altogether, she took the unpaid leave and ultimately returned to work after giving birth to her child.

EEOC lawsuits

While on unpaid leave, and still smarting from the way Walmart treated her, she sought the advice and counsel of a local family rights advocacy group. They filed a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on her behalf in which they claimed pregnancy discrimination. It was their sixth such lawsuit on behalf of similarly situated female employees.

The EEOC's own records show that between 2010 and 2015, it received approximately 31,000 pregnancy discrimination suits, many against Walmart. Walmart is the largest private employer in nearly half of the states throughout the nation.

While this case was not an actual pregnancy firing, it does show how far some employers will go to discriminate against pregnant employees. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, or already are, you should be aware of your legal rights if your employer discriminates against you because of your condition. This is general information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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