NEW YORK — A former Trader Joe’s employee is accusing the grocery chain of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, alleging mistreatment and claiming that a change in the company’s health insurance policy led to her coverage being wrongly revoked after she went on maternity leave.
Julia Hammer, 42, began her employment as a full-time employee at Trader Joe’s Lower East Side location in Manhattan on October 19, 2018, and was transferred upon her request in April 2021 – shortly before giving birth – to the grocery chain’s Long Island City location in Queens, according to the complaint obtained by ABC News.
Hammer claims in the lawsuit that upon returning to work from maternity leave in August 2021, her employer failed to provide her with a private and clean room to pump milk for her newborn child. According to the lawsuit, Hammer says that she had to “rely on an unsanitary mechanical room” that was often used by others — an experience she said brought physical discomfort and pain when she couldn’t pump.
The lawsuit also details an alleged incident on Nov. 10, 2021, when a male co-worker walked in on her while she was pumping, leaving her “scared and very shaken up” as she found herself “completely exposed” and “in a vulnerable place.”
ABC News reached out to Trader Joe’s representatives to inquire about the grocery chain’s maternity leave policy and whether there’s a policy regarding providing mothers with lactation rooms.
The suit further alleges that after returning from maternity leave, Hammer learned in November 2021 that Trader Joe’s health care coverage policy was set to change in 2022 and that her coverage would be revoked by Dec. 31, 2021, leaving her and her newborn child without health insurance. Hammer claims that losing her health insurance forced her to resign from Trader Joe’s in December 2021 to find a job that provided her with health insurance.
It is unclear what changes were made to Trader Joe’s health care coverage policy.
According to Trader Joe’s website, the grocery chain offers “medical, dental and vision plans to eligible Crew Members,” but it does not specify how many hours an employee needs to work.
ABC News has reached out to Trader Joe’s national representatives and management at its Long Island City location in Queens, but requests for comment were not immediately returned.
The suit claims that Hammer’s health care coverage was revoked “under the guise that Hammer did not meet the required number of hours to be eligible for her entitled benefits,” but also alleges that when calculating the “minimum number of hours to qualify for insurance, it became clear that Trader Joe’s was evaluating Hammer’s hours without considering that she went on [maternity] leave.”
Hammer, who is gay and became pregnant through insemination, also alleges in the complaint that she experienced “numerous discriminatory and offensive comments to her about pregnancy and childbirth” from co-workers and managers during her pregnancy at both locations.
“Returning to work after giving birth has many challenges, but the way Trader Joe’s treated me only made it more difficult,” Hammer told ABC News in a statement through her attorney on Tuesday. “From the anxiety and stress every time I had to pump in that horrible mechanical room, to me and my infant child losing health insurance during a pandemic, Trader Joe’s caused me and my family to suffer tremendously. Companies like Trader Joe’s that claim to care about their employees have a responsibility to support working mothers just like everyone else, and I want to help make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen to other people.”
According to the complaint, Hammer’s experience led her to seek professional help in December 2021 and she was ultimately prescribed anxiety medication, leading her to stop breastfeeding because she was concerned about the impact it could have on her child.
“Hammer felt profoundly disappointed and guilty about no longer providing milk to her child,” the complaint says.
According to the suit, Hammer is seeking unspecified emotional distress damages, financial compensation and attorney’s fees.
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