State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday, Aug. 16 accusing corporate retailer O’Reilly Auto Parts in Washington state of systemic discrimination and retaliation against the company’s pregnant employees.
The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle against O’Reilly asserts that it is reportedly the company’s practice to unlawfully refuse pregnant workers reasonable workplace accommodations, such as the ability to sit or rest, limit how much they lift or handle hazardous materials, allow flexibility for restroom breaks, and pump breast milk for their newborn babies after returning to work postpartum, according to an Attorney General’s Office news release.
Moreover, according to the news release, after unlawfully rejecting these accommodations, O’Reilly managers reportedly routinely engaged in retaliation against the women who sought them — demoting them, threatening termination and forcing them to take unpaid leave or quit altogether.
An O’Reilly Auto Parts spokesperson, based at the company’s headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, denied the allegations in an Aug. 16 email to the Kent Reporter.
“O’Reilly Auto Parts was just made aware of the news release from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, and is surprised with both the characterization of the facts and the filing of the complaint,” according to the spokesperson. “Our policies and practices are designed to, and do, comply with Washington’s Healthy Starts Act and the law against discrimination. These policies and practices prohibit discrimination and retaliation against pregnant applicants and team members, provide for reasonable accommodation in compliance with these acts, and prohibit retaliation for exercising their rights under them.”
At least 22 women suffered physically, emotionally and financially as a direct result of O’Reilly’s unlawful actions, according to the news release. The Attorney General’s Office suspects the number is much greater, with hundreds of Washington workers employed by O’Reilly at 169 stores across 27 counties. Store locations in King County include Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, Renton and Enumclaw.
O’Reilly’s has 6,027 stores in 48 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, according to its website.
If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination at a Washington O’Reilly, contact the Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Division by emailing Oreillylawsuit@atg.wa.gov or call 833-660-4877 and select Option 4. Current and former employees may also submit a complaint using an online form.
“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.”
“Having a healthy and safe pregnancy is critical for both the baby and mother, and it’s reasonable to expect employers to accommodate that,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the Healthy Starts Act that enshrined these pregnancy accommodations into state law. “Women shouldn’t have to choose between being able to work and provide for their families, and having a healthy pregnancy. 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, and I want to thank Attorney General Ferguson for taking this important enforcement action.”
The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into O’Reilly after receiving two separate complaints from pregnant employees within months of each other. Limited records provided by the retailer reveal at least 134 requests for pregnancy accommodations were made in Washington between January 2019 and February 2023. The company has since been unresponsive and uncooperative, leading Ferguson to file the lawsuit, according to the news release.
Multiple employees told Civil Rights Division investigators that their requests for pregnancy-related leave were denied, including one woman who said O’Reilly’s leave of absence department repeatedly rejected the accommodation because her due date was an “estimate” and not definitive.
Many employees told investigators that O’Reilly managers required them to lift more than the weight limit recommended as safe by their doctors. Some of them said that did not change even after they complained to management of dizziness, significant cramping or other physical symptoms while performing the work.
Several women said they were subject to verbal harassment for taking breaks to sit or use the restroom, according to the news release. 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 them said the assistant manager admitted to the retaliatory action.
When employees expressed concerns to management about these and other actions, managers reportedly were routinely dismissive. Several employees told investigators that they never believed their accommodations were taken seriously. In fact, one woman says a manager even told her so, remarking that he thought she would be leaving in a few months so it “didn’t matter.”