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Woman with disabilities claims Walmart fired her because she was pregnant

Register-Guard - 2/4/2019

Feb. 04--A Eugene woman with disabilities is suing Walmart after she says the Arkansas-based corporation fired her because she was pregnant.

Angela Tucker filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Lane County Circuit Court against Walmart, and two Walmart employees, Felicia "Flory" Durfee, an assistant manager, and manager Chris Majdecki. The lawsuit alleges unlawful employment practices, including sex discrimination, disability discrimination or retaliation, failure to accommodate or engage in the interactive process, violating the Oregon Family Leave Act, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, and aiding and abetting discrimination.

The lawsuit seeks $850,000 and requests a jury trial. No court dates have yet been set.

Walmart has faced criticism and lawsuits nationally for allegedly punishing workers for medical- and pregnancy-related absences. Just last week, Walmart announced a new paid time off policy that includes "protected PTO" for use in illnesses and emergencies, such as a flat tire or taking care of sick kids or family members. The announcement comes four months after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the corporation, alleging pregnancy discrimination.

"What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated," EEOC's district director in Chicago Julianne Bowman said in an announcement of the suit being filed Sept. 21, 2018. "But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law."

That lawsuit is still ongoing, as well as others including a class action lawsuit filed in July by A Better Balance alleging that Walmart's absence policy discriminated against pregnant workers.

According to the local lawsuit, Tucker was hired as a permanent associate at Walmart in September 2016, first serving as a night-shift shelf stocker. Walmart, she claims, was well aware of her disabilities that "substantially limit her ability to perform major life duties" and require her to take medication that helps her focus on tasks and stabilize her moods, the lawsuit states. As a result, Walmart assigned Tucker a "job coach," Tucker's brother Trevor Tucker, who was retained by an outside agency to serve in the coach role, the lawsuit states.

The coach's role was to keep Tucker on track during a portion of her shift and help her stay focused and communicate effectively, the lawsuit states. The coach attended performance reviews for Tucker and was used by Walmart to communicate in detail with Tucker about her work performance. After the first year, Tucker became a sales associate and moved to the day shift, working with returns, stocking shelves, and putting back items left in aisles. She claims she received overall positive performance reviews throughout her employment.

But in early 2018, Tucker was warned by Walmart staff, with her coach present, about focusing on tasks around the fitting room. Collectively, the lawsuit states, it was decided she should no longer work near the fitting rooms because of the interruptions in that area that made it difficult to focus.

However, Tucker continued to regularly be assigned to work in the fitting room after that decision was made, the lawsuit states.

In July 2018, Tucker learned she was four months pregnant and notified Walmart, as she had to stop taking her medications and would likely have difficultly focusing throughout the duration of her pregnancy. She requested to take maternity leave in November 2018.

From that point, the lawsuit claims Tucker's performance was "coached" or reprimanded for her performance by Walmart staff without the presence of her coach, noting things like leaving a shirt hanging in the fitting room and failing to take a lunch break during her shift.

She was assigned to the shoe department, which required a lot of bending down, the lawsuit states, something made difficult as she was seven months pregnant by that time.

On the day before she was scheduled to go on maternity leave, Tucker claims she was fired for her productivity. Her job coach, Trevor Tucker, was not present at that meeting.

After the firing, Trevor Tucker met with Madjecki, who apologized for the poor timing, but said he was aware Tucker had "issues." The lawsuit claims when Trevor Tucker asked what "issues" he was referring to, Madjecki allegedly said, "Well, she's pregnant, and she has a job coach."

On Sunday, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said Walmart takes the allegation seriously and once the company has been served with the complaint, it will respond appropriately through the court.

"Walmart has always been a great place for women to work and we don't tolerate any kind of discrimination," Hargrove said.

Follow Chelsea Deffenbacher on Twitter @ChelseaDeffenB. Email chelsea.deffenbacher@registerguard.com.

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(c)2019 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.)

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