A pregnant former Walmart worker on Chicago's South Side says she was unjustly fired and is now fighting to get her job back.
The worker and labor activists plan to protest the pregnant employee's May firing Tuesday evening at the Walmart in Chatham.
Back in April, Thelma Moore was shopping at the Chatham Walmart on her day off when two TV boxes fell from a product cart and hit her. Moore, who was about two months pregnant at the time, sought immediate medical care after the accident, which occurred just over a week after she was hired. Moore, 23, said she hurt her ankle during the incident and also experienced vaginal bleeding.
Both her primary physician and an orthopedic doctor wrote letters stating Moore needed to take a total of two-and-a-half weeks off of work to recover. Those letters were provided to the store's management, according to Moore.
On May 8, she was supposed to start working the overnight shift again. Moore brought along a list of needed accommodations written by her primary doctor, including a water break every two hours and a restriction on lifting items heavier than 25 pounds. Moore said she was instructed to fill out company paperwork for the requested accommodations, which would take between seven to 10 business days to process. In the meantime, Moore was not put on the schedule because no positions were immediately available that involved lifting only up to 25 pounds, she said.
"All that time (I was) just waiting on that form to come back," she said, adding that she checked in with management on multiple occasions to see if the accommodations had been approved and when she could return to work. "They can view the cameras. I was up there every day trying to get my job back."
Moore claims Walmart dragged its feet on processing the accommodations paperwork and then ultimately fired her on May 22 for taking off more than five unauthorized days of work.
A manager "just told me that I didn't have permission to take all that time off, which is clearly untrue," Moore stressed. "I had (permission) to take off all the way to the eighth of May, and then after that they were making me fill out an accommodation form."
"It was never said to me that I had took too much time off" before being fired, Moore added. "You would have thought a real boss would have called you [on the days you didn't report to work] and said, 'OK, what are you doing? You're supposed to be in here ... But that wasn't the case, because this is what they wanted to happen."
"They just played me," she continued. "That was their excuse to say that 'You did not have permission to take that time off' when they were the ones that made me come in and fill out this form ... to be accommodated for a different position. They were the ones that did that and tried to use that as an excuse" for the termination.
Moore said she filed a complaint late last month against Walmart with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging retaliatory discharge. Moore believes Walmart wanted her gone for various reasons.
First, Walmart management allegedly tried to process Moore's accident in the company's system as an associate, rather than a customer, incident.
"I know that's another reason they fired me, because (my manager) tried to be slick and change (the accident report) as an associate incident, but I wouldn't let her," Moore said. "And then she tried to be slick again and tell me she was going to do it anyway. And I told her, 'Well, you can go ahead and do it, and then I'll take action."
A manager also allegedly asked Moore to take a drug test after the accident. But Moore refused, explaining that the incident happened off-the-clock and she had already taken a recent company drug test before she was hired.
These alleged exchanges with management prompted Moore to seek legal representation.
"It's crazy how when I get a lawyer, less than 10 days after that, you all fire me," Moore said of Walmart.
"I believe it was a lot of different reasons [why] Walmart fired me," she continued. "They were already upset because I refused to take a drug test. Not only that, it's because I knew my rights. That's what they were upset at."
Walmart did not return Progress Illinois' request for comment.
Ada Fuentes with Chicago Jobs with Justice said she believes Moore was fired in part so the company did not have to provide pregnancy-related accommodations.
"Walmart has continuously time and time again mistreated workers, specifically working moms, throughout the entire country," she said. "Within Walmart, we've had issues where they don't even print their policy for pregnant moms to know. Also, it's not law or required to announce to anyone that you're pregnant, but we've seen them mistreat workers who are pregnant, retaliate against them if they ask for any accommodation ... The minute you ask for a reasonable accommodation, they try to refuse it with whatever they can use."
"Walmart needs to stop what it's doing and actually play by the law," she added.
Moore is "seeking justice" and wants her job back. When asked why she wants to return to the company, Moore said she hasn't found another job yet and is currently almost six months pregnant.
"At the end of the day, I have a child to take care of in three months," she stressed.
Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of Tuesday's protest.