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Supply Chain News: Treatment of Pregnant Workers in the DC a Growing Legal Issue

 

Group of Senators Demands Information from XPO after Article on Miscarriages by New York Times

Dec. 5, 2018
SCDigest Editorial Staff

How companies are treating pregnant associates in distribution center jobs ias a growing legal issue, recently ensnaring both Walmart and XPO Logistics.

 

In Walmart's case, the retail giant is being accused of violating federal law by failing to accommodate workers' pregnancy-related medical restrictions on the job.

According to a lawsuit that was brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Alyssa Gilliam and a class of pregnant employees at Walmart's distribution center in Menomonie, WI, were not allowed to take part in a light duty program offered by the company that is designed to accommodate other workers' restrictions.

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An article the New York Times in mid-October that claimed pregnant workers at XPO's Memphis DC face an overly demanding workload, under difficult conditions.


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"What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated," said Julianne Bowman, the EEOC's district director in Chicago who managed the federal agency's pre-suit administrative investigation. "But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law."

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove
called Walmart a "great place for women to work" and said the company plans to defend itself against the allegations.

Hargrove also said Walmart has updated its accommodations policy over the last several years and its policies "have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law and this includes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act."

The giant retailer faces at least two other class action lawsuits alleging pregnancy discrimination, one in New York and one in Illinois.

The Illinois lawsuit similarly accuses the firm of denying requests by pregnant women to limit heavy lifting, ladder climbing and other potentially dangerous tasks.

The New York case targets Walmart's absence policy, with two former employees charging they were fired for missing time due to pregnancy medical issues.

The alleged conduct, the cases claims, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits pregnancy discrimination in employment.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, and it is moving forward after an unsuccesful attempt to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The EEOC is seeking full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart's practices going forward.

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"This case is not suitable for class treatment, and we deny the allegations," Walmart's Hargrove told Insurance Journal.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago a group of US senators demanded that major 3PL XPO Logistics provide details by this week on workplace practices throughout its network of distribution centers in the wake of allegations that the company subjected pregnant female employees to overly strenuous working conditions at a Memphis DC, and that some workers may have suffered miscarriages as a result.

The letter, co-signed by eight Democrats and one independent, demands that XPO respond to seven questions, most of which go beyond the alleged incidents at the Memphis facility to address workplace issues across the company's US facilities, which includes more than 370 distribution centers. The senators said they want XPO to "outline changes that will be made to improve working conditions and protect your employees throughout the country."

The move by the legislators comes after an article the New York Times in mid-October that claimed pregnant workers at XPO's Memphis DC face an overly demanding workload, under difficult conditions, with temperatures routinely exceeding 100 degrees and with humidity often making it difficult to breathe.

Another flashpoint occurred on Oct. 17, 2017 when Linda Neal, a 58-year-old worker, collapsed on the warehouse floor and died of a heart attack.

According to the Times story, her son said that supervisors had denied her permission to leave early when she complained about feeling ill. XPO said in an earlier statement that emergency services were immediately called after Neal collapsed, and employee access was restricted until Memphis police arrived.

"Our colleague's passing was deeply upsetting, and employees had the option to leave work for the rest of the day," according to the XPO statement.

Some of the alleged miscarriage incidents actually occurred under the facility ownership of New Breed Logistics, which XPO acquired in 2014.

Earlier this month, XPO published a fact sheet on its website defending its policies and practices, according to the FreightWaves.com website. After the miscarriage allegations surfaced last month in the Times, the company said it conducted a review of four years of compliance reports and could not find any allegations that were reported either to XPO or New Breed.

XPO said its employee accommodation policies meet or exceed what the law requires, and that managers are trained on them throughout the year.

However these pending cases play out, this issue of how pregnant workers are treated in the DC is not likely to go away, and shippers would do well to get ahead of the issue instead of waiting for a letter from the EEOC.

 

Do you see treatment of pregnant DC workers becoming a bigger issue? Why don't companies just make better accommodations? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


 
 

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