Walmart has agreed to pay $60,000 and provide other relief to settle claims that an Iowa store refused to promote a female employee because she had young children, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday.
Per a 2022 complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, a Walmart assistant manager allegedly told the plaintiff that decision-makers preferred to select a candidate who would stay with Walmart long-term and eventually seek a promotion to assistant manager, and they “did not think [the plaintiff] wanted those things because she had small children at home.” EEOC said that the company later gave the position to an employee who did not have small children.
The agency alleged that the decision constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court approved Thursday a consent decree under which Walmart agreed to resolve the suit without an admission of liability. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment submitted via online form.
Employees generally may be wary of expressing interest in promotions due, in part, to fears about bias or unfair treatment, according to a 2022 Syndio survey. Moreover, a 2021 Indeed report cited survey data that showed women were less comfortable than men asking employers about promotions as well as flexible work hours.
Discrimination against caregivers including parents is not a new concern, however. In a 2022 guidance document published on its website, EEOC said it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or promote a woman based on assumptions that because she is female, she would focus primarily on caring for her young children.
“Discriminating against a woman because of stereotypes about working mothers is sex discrimination, plain and simple,” Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for EEOC’s Chicago district office, said in an agency press release. “Women with children deserve the opportunity to be judged fairly in the workplace based on their qualifications and abilities, not on assumptions about their commitment to their careers.”
Faced with worsening child care concerns in the past year, employers have increasingly offered family support benefits that allow employees to take care of their immediate family members, such as paid leave, the Society for Human Resource Management said last year. Such benefits also have grown to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ workers and employees with other life situations.
In one example, UPS announced last October that it would expand its emergency child care program for U.S.-based front-line workers. A pilot version of the program not only eliminated more than 120 unplanned absences but also reduced employee turnover, UPS said.