In April 2015, Alyssa Gilliam asked her higher-ups at a Walmart distribution center in Menomonie, Wisconsin, if she could transfer to a job with less heavy lifting.
She was pregnant. Lifting and transporting the heavy boxes put her at risk for premature labor and an underweight baby.
The answer was a big no can-do, according to a complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Thursday. Sure, the big box retailer’s distribution center offered less strenuous jobs to people with work-related injuries and stuff -- just not for expecting mothers. They told her to go back to her heavy lifting.
Time went on, and Gilliam managed as best she could. She took occasional leaves of absence in order to avoid wearing herself out. She eventually transferred to a part-time job so she’d at least be lifting heavy stuff for fewer hours each week -- even if it cut her pay and eliminated her benefits. She requested shorter work days, a few more breaks, even a plain old chair. She was turned down every time.
Finally, in November, two months before she gave birth, Gilliam slapped down a doctor’s note recommending she lift nothing heavier than five pounds. In return, she was immediately put on unpaid leave.
Now, Gilliam and the EEOC are slapping Walmart with a lawsuit. If you’re willing to accommodate people for other medical restrictions, the commission says, you have to accommodate pregnant women, too.
On top of that, Attorney Elizabeth Banaszak says, Gilliam is probably the rule rather than the exception. Their investigation turned up more cases when Walmart had required pregnant women to do heavy labor, even as they let employees with other medical conditions lighten their loads.
The commission wants Walmart to pay up: damages, back pay, and some real effort to make sure this never happens again. So far, Banaszak says, they haven’t gotten a response from the company.
Walmart’s formal statement on the matter denies Gilliam’s account of events.
“This case is not suitable for class treatment, and we deny the allegations,” the statement reads. It goes on to say that they “plan to defend the company” and that Walmart is “a great place for women to work."