AG Ferguson sues O’Reilly Auto Parts over alleged pregnant employee discrimination
Aug 16, 2023, 12:53 PM
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil rights lawsuit against retailer O’Reilly Auto Parts Wednesday over the alleged systemic discrimination against pregnant employees within the company.
The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court against the auto parts retail chain asserts the company repeatedly and unlawfully refuses reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant workers.
The alleged behavior included barring pregnant employees from sitting or resting, not limiting how much they lift, making them handle hazardous materials, not allowing flexibility for restroom breaks, and failing to allow pregnant employees to pump breastmilk for their newborn babies after returning to work postpartum.
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“Pregnant Washingtonians should not have to choose between healthy, safe pregnancies and their livelihoods,” Ferguson said. “My office will hold O’Reilly and any other employer accountable when they violate the law and endanger the health of their employees and their babies.”
The attorney general’s office first opened an investigation into O’Reilly Auto Parts after receiving two separate complaints from pregnant employees within a few months of each other. Ferguson and his team soon uncovered limited records for at least 134 requests for pregnancy accommodations between January 2019 and February 2023 within the state of Washington.
Ferguson also claimed O’Reilly managers routinely engaged in retaliation against the women who sought them by demoting them, threatening termination, and forcing them to take unpaid leave or quit altogether.
“I’ve been employed with O’Reilly Auto Parts since the summer of 2019. In January of 2023, I found out I was expecting my daughter, due September 29,” a former employee said during Ferguson’s press conference. “In February of 2023, I went to my store manager and asked to be transferred to another store due to being stressed out in the store I was in.”
But just two months later, she was assigned to a job that was above her weight restrictions, putting the safety of her and her baby at risk.
“After trying to remove an (item) that weighed over 50 pounds, I rushed myself to the ER to make sure my baby was OK,” she continued. “That was my breaking point. I told my manager if you do not transfer me, then I would be sending in my two weeks right there.”
She was finally transferred, but it was too late. After suffering from stress-induced illnesses daily while working at O’Reilly while pregnant, her unborn child died June 12.
“Having a healthy and safe pregnancy is critical for both the baby and mother, and it’s reasonable to expect employers to accommodate that,” Sen. Karen Keiser said during the press conference. “Women shouldn’t have to choose between being able to work and provide for their families, and having a healthy pregnancy.”
Kaiser sponsored the Healthy Starts Act that enshrined pregnancy accommodations into state law.
“While nearly all employers follow the law and do right by their pregnant workers, in the rare cases where they don’t, we need to act,” Keiser added. “I want to thank Attorney General Ferguson for taking this important enforcement action.”
At least 22 women came forward with reports of suffering physically, emotionally, or financially as a direct result of alleged actions from O’Reilly’s management staff, but the attorney general’s office still suspects the number is much higher, with hundreds of Washington workers employed by O’Reilly at 169 stores across 27 counties. Several women said they were subject to verbal harassment for taking breaks to sit or use the restroom.
According to the attorney general’s office, at least two women said managers hid the stools they used during breaks to rest, including one who was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and blood clots in her legs. One of the women claimed an assistant manager admitted to the retaliatory action.
Several pregnant employees said that after they gave birth, multiple managers coerced them into returning to work before the end of their scheduled maternity leave.