A discount vision retailer with stores throughout New Jersey discriminated against a now-former employee by switching her to part time and not providing a suitable place to pump breast milk after she had a baby, a state civil rights complaint alleges.
Jalaia Hill says in a state civil rights complaint that her health coverage was eliminated by the sudden position switch from full to part time when she returned from maternity leave to the America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses store in Burlington.
America’s Best also “failed to reasonably accommodate her request for a place to express breast milk,” state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said Hill alleges in the complaint filed with the state Division on Civil Rights.
Specifically, Hill says, she was “forced to use an oft-accessed utility room that did not have a lock on the door and that was filled with boxes of supplies,” Grewal said.
“While expressing milk she was forced to lean up against the unlocked door in an attempt to ensure privacy, yet she would still be periodically interrupted by workers who walked in to obtain supplies,” the attorney general said.
She also alleges that she was frequently ordered by her manager to “hurry up and finish” because customers were waiting, he said.
America’s Best, which is a discount provider of eye examinations, eyeglasses and contact lenses, denied discriminating against Hill.
The DCR investigated and “determined there is sufficient evidence to support a claim” that the national retailer violated a state anti-discrimination law, Grewal said.
Hill began her employment with America’s Best as a full-time sales associate in May 2018, earning an hourly wage plus sales commissions, Grewal said.
Because she worked more than 30 hours per week she was considered full-time and received healthcare benefits for herself and her children, he said.
Hill took maternity leave beginning on Nov. 19, 2018 and returned to work on March 4, 2019.
In her complaint, Hill alleges that in February 2019 – only days before she was scheduled to return to her full-time sales associate position – she had a telephone conversation with her manager in which he informed her that only part-time hours were available because another employee had taken over her hours while she was out on leave.
According to Hill, she was never restored to full-time hours, despite also informing the company’s district manager of her situation and an alleged promise from that same district manager to arrange additional work hours for Hill at the Audubon store to qualify Hill as a full-time employee.
Three of Hill’s Burlington store co-workers corroborated Hill’s account, Grewal said.
Time sheets obtained by DCR showed that Hill worked an average of 34 hours per week prior to her maternity leave but clocked an average of only 28 hours a week after returning, the attorney general said.
DCR’s investigation also found that America’s Best eventually installed a lock on the utility room door where Hill was forced to express milk nearly three months after Hill’s return from pregnancy leave, he said.
Grewal noted that New Jersey law “goes farther than federal law when it comes to protecting pregnant and breastfeeding employees and employers must ensure they know what state law, as opposed to federal law, requires.”
Among its 700 locations nationwide, America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, Inc. lists New Jersey locations in:
- Cherry Hill;
- Hamilton Township;
- Mays Landing;
- Somers Point;
- Toms River;
- West Long Branch;
- Woodbridge (Woodbridge Commons).
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