OLYMPIA, Wash. — Two delivery companies and an owner have been ordered by a Tacoma judge to pay more than $41,000 in penalties for firing a pregnant employee immediately after she asked if she could avoid taking heavy items on her route.
The judge’s decision came in the first case brought to trial by the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Office under the 2017 Healthy Starts Act, which ensures that pregnant employees have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
The case involved Sarai Alhasawi, who began working for Colmar and DB Delivery in November 2016. On January 24, 2018, she texted Operations Director Denise Brown to ask if she could avoid taking heavy items on the next day’s route.
When asked why, Alhasawi said her doctor said she needed to be careful and not lift heavy items during the first stage of her pregnancy.
Brown then asked her to drop off her work van because she was giving her entire route to someone else. When Alhasawi asked why, Brown said it was because she could no longer lift 150-pound items as required.
“I was going to have to let you go anyhow,” a text from Brown said. Brown later texted that other pregnant employees had worked their routes without asking for accommodations, then told Alhasawi none of that mattered “because you’re no longer employed with us.”
When Alhasawi asked another manager for help, he said he couldn’t because Brown made the decisions. He suggested that she talk to owner Collin Heacox.
Though Alhasawi said she called and texted Heacox repeatedly, she never heard back.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, Alhasawi was the sole earner for her family. After she was fired, she, her husband and her child were forced to move in with relatives across the state.
Under the law, employers must provide accommodations for pregnant employees, including:
- Providing more frequent, longer or flexible restroom breaks;
- Changing a no-food-or-drink policy;
- Allowing more frequent sitting; and
- Limiting lifting to 17 pounds or less.
Employees can ask for other accommodations such as “job or schedule restructuring, reassignment to a vacant position, modifications to an employee’s equipment or work station, providing assistance with manual labor, transfers to less dangerous or physical work, scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits, extra break time to express breast milk or other reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis,” Ferguson’s office said.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh found Colmar and DB Delivery violated the law when the manager fired Alhasawi and ordered the companies and owner Heacox to pay $41,672.36 to Alhasawi - $16,069 for back wages, $470.36 for moving expenses, $133 for storage costs and $25,000 for emotional distress.
“A pregnant employee does not have to choose between her job and her health,” Ferguson said. “This ruling communicates to employers around the state that my office will ensure pregnant employees are protected.”
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