September 21, 2018 / 4:25 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. agency accuses Walmart of pregnancy discrimination in lawsuit

(Adds background on other cases, Walmart comment)

By Daniel Wiessner

Sept 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday filed a lawsuit accusing Walmart Inc of forcing pregnant workers at a Wisconsin warehouse to go on unpaid leave and denying their requests to take on easier duties.

The EEOC, which enforces federal laws banning discrimination in the workplace, said Walmart's distribution center in Menomonie, Wisconsin, has discriminated against pregnant employees since 2014. Federal law requires employers to accommodate workers' pregnancies in the same way as physical disabilities.

Arkansas-based Walmart is the largest retailer and private employer in the United States.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove in a statement on Friday said the company does not tolerate discrimination.

"Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law," he said.

Walmart is also facing class action lawsuits in Illinois and New York accusing it of denying accommodations to thousands of pregnant workers at its retail stores. In March, a federal judge in Illinois denied Walmart's bid to dismiss the claims. The New York case is pending.

Walmart denied the claims in both lawsuits and said its anti-discrimination policy has long listed pregnancy as a protected status.

Friday's lawsuit, filed in federal court in Wisconsin, stems from a complaint filed by Alyssa Gilliam, an employee at the Walmart warehouse in Menomonie.

The EEOC in the lawsuit said Gilliam became pregnant in 2015, and Walmart denied her requests for restrictions on heavy lifting, additional breaks, and a chair to use while working.

The commission said Walmart refused similar requests by other pregnant workers at the warehouse, but granted them for workers with disabilities or injuries.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant women. In a 2015 decision involving United Parcel Service Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court said the law requires employers to provide the same accommodations to pregnant women as it does disabled workers.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, workers have filed pregnancy discrimination lawsuits against several large companies, including Merck & Co Inc, Amazon.com Inc unit Whole Foods, Novartis AG, and AT&T Inc's mobile phone subsidiary. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany and Nandita Bose in New York Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bill Berkrot and Alexia Garamfalvi)

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