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Washington sues O'Reilly Auto Parts, alleging discrimination against pregnant workers

The sign for O’Reilly Auto Parts is seen on a gray building with trees peeking out in the background.
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
O’Reilly Auto Parts, a national retailer based in Missouri, is the target of a new civil rights lawsuit in Washington.

O’Reilly Auto Parts, a national retailer, is the target of a new civil rights lawsuit in Washington.

The state attorney general’s office filedthe suit in King County Superior Court Wednesday. It alleges that O'Reilly, which is based in Missouri, violated a Washington state laws, including one aimed at ensuring protections for pregnant workers, in several of its stores across the state.

The case stems from complaints made by at least 22 employees who say their requests for accommodations were ignored or dismissed by management. Workers filed complaints that they were harassed for taking breaks to sit down, denied paid leave, or forced to do work that put their pregnancies at risk.

Aria Crate worked at an O'Reilly warehouse in Puyallup. She told reporters at a news conference Wednesday morning that her supervisor mocked work restrictions from her doctor, and that she was told by management that the company wouldn't accommodate them.

"They told me the only choice was to stop work or have my doctor lift my restrictions. I pleaded with them but they sent me home on unpaid leave," Crate said.

Another worker, Skylar Ramsdall, said managers at the Tacoma store she worked at ignored her initial request to be transferred to a lower stress position after becoming pregnant earlier this year. She says her daughter was born 16 weeks prematurely in June, and died five days later.

"I 100% believe, had I been accommodated when I first asked in February, there's a big possibility I could still be pregnant right now," Randall said. "I should be having my baby shower, getting [my daughter's] nursery finished and enjoying these last few weeks of my pregnancy – instead I had to have a memorial."

The lawsuit alleges the company violated the state's Law Against Discrimination and Healthy Starts Act. The Healthy Starts Act became law in 2017 and requires employers to provide accommodations for pregnant workers, like flexible schedules for longer or more frequent breaks. The law also makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who request those accommodations.

In response to a request for comment, O'Reilly defended its policies and practices in an emailed statement.

"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," the statement said. "Our policies and practices are designed to, and do, comply with Washington’s Healthy Starts Act and the Law Against Discrimination."

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.