Pier 1 Imports sued for forcing pregnant woman into unpaid leave

04/21/2014 6:55 PM

04/21/2014 6:55 PM

A pregnant, part-time retail clerk at a Pier 1 Imports store in California has filed a lawsuit against the Fort Worth-based retailer after it forced her into unpaid maternity leave, which runs out months before she is to give birth.

“It’s been very stressful,” Kimberly Caselman said of her case, filed on April 16 in a California superior court. “Pregnancy alone is stressing and trying to fight for your job in the middle of this just makes it worse.”

According to the suit, Caselman’s store manager in San Jose asked about any medical restrictions after being informed about the pregnancy in November. Although it has not been a high-risk pregnancy, her physician recommended that Caselman not climb ladders or carry more than 15 pounds.

Pier 1 then placed her on the company’s maximum of eight weeks of light duty, followed in January by four months of unpaid leave. Caselman’s baby is due in July.

Unlike Texas, California has a law that prevents employers from forcing pregnant workers to take unrequested leave, said Caselman’s attorney, Sharon Terman, of the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center of San Francisco. The state law doesn’t distinguish between full-time and part-time workers, she said. Terman hopes to find other current and former Pier 1 employees to join a class-action suit.

Pier 1 spokesperson Jennifer Engstrand said that as a matter of policy, the company does not comment on specific legal matters.

The suit prompted an online petition organized by the women’s rights group UltraViolet, which drew nearly 50,000 signatures over the weekend, said Karin Roland, the group’s organizing director. The petition urges Pier 1 CEO Alex Smith to change its policy of limiting light duty for pregnant workers to eight weeks, then putting them on unpaid leave.

During the eight weeks of light duty, Caselman told the Star-Telegram that she asked for a co-worker’s assistance only twice, once to help lower a chair from a shelf.

Caselman is seeking back pay, damages for emotional distress and a change in Pier 1’s policy to conform to California’s 1999 Pregnancy Accommodation Law, said Terman.

Michael Z. Green, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, said that a proposed federal law would provide pregnant workers more protection in states like Texas.

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