Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a civil rights lawsuit against O’Reilly Auto Parts for mistreatment of at least 22 pregnant workers.
“I want to underline and underscore that we believe the number of individuals who were harmed is much, much higher than that,” Ferguson said in the Aug. 16 announcement.
The allegations against the major auto parts retailer include rejections of reasonable requests such as bathroom breaks, pregnancy-related leave, adequate time to pump breast milk and work duty modifications for lifting or handling hazardous materials.
O’Reilly Auto Parts is also accused of retaliating against pregnant workers. Managers harassed them about their pregnancy and their bodies, forced employees to take unpaid leave, demoted them, threatened termination and forced them to quit, according to the attorney general.
“Some women had to seek medical intervention after O’Reilly denied accommodations and women continued to work under conditions that were contrary to their doctors’ orders,” Ferguson said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
“Some women we interviewed experienced miscarriage or premature birth after O’Reilly denied their accommodations,” Ferguson added. “This conduct is cruel and it is illegal.”
One woman who worked at two different O’Reilly stores in Tacoma, Skylar Ramsdall, said she lost her baby to premature birth in June after hitting her stomach with a lid that weighed over 50 pounds. At Ferguson’s press conference, Ramsdall said she believes if she had been accommodated by her employer, she would still be pregnant today.
“I would have been 34 weeks this Friday. I should be having my baby shower, getting our nursery finished and enjoying these last few weeks of my pregnancy. Instead, I’m about to have a memorial and held my daughter’s urn,” Ramsdall said, her voice breaking.
The state alleges O’Reilly broke multiple state laws, including one protecting workers against discrimination on the basis of sex and a law passed in 2017 called the Healthy Starts Act, which entitles pregnant workers to reasonable accommodations at work.
This is not the first time Washington has investigated O’Reilly, Ferguson said. The state investigated the company in 2014 for not providing the same health care benefits offered to married couples to same-sex spouses. After being taken to court, O’Reilly changed its policy across the country.
O’Reilly did not respond to requests for more information from the Attorney General’s Office, according to Ferguson. Ferguson filed the case in King County Superior Court.
The Attorney General’s Office is asking anyone who has experienced pregnancy discrimination as an O’Reilly employee to contact the office’s Civil Rights Division by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 833-660-4877 and choosing option 4. There is also an online complaint form.
In an email to the Standard Aug. 16, O’Reilly Auto Parts said they were “just made aware” of the lawsuit and were “surprised with both the characterization of the facts and the filing of the Complaint.”
“Our policies and practices are designed to, and do, comply with Washington’s Healthy Starts Act and the Law Against Discrimination,” the statement said.
— By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard
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