Seven days after Georgia mom Kaytiara McAlister learned she was pregnant, that pregnancy cost her job, according to a new federal lawsuit..
McAlister claims she was fired from her job at a manufacturing center in west Georgia after leaving her shift early due to severe abdominal pain and heavy bleeding related to her pregnancy. Her employer, TydenBrooks, claims in court documents the company did nothing wrong. But McAlister, in court documents and an interview with Reckon, says the company’s inflexible attendance policy discriminates by penalizing employees for legally protected medical-related absences.
Attorneys for TydenBrooks have filed a response to the complaint, denying any wrongdoing. They did not answer multiple requests for an interview or statement.
Strict points-based attendance policies, most often used in manufacturing and retail jobs, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. The federal government has brought lawsuits against some companies, citing the discriminatory nature of their attendance policies.
McAlister wants to see employers like hers rework their rules to accommodate pregnant workers.
“I want (TydenBrooks) to be held accountable and I want them to understand that what they did was not right,” she told Reckon. “I want them to make policy changes, to never make another employee go through what I’ve gone through. To choose between your life and job, nobody should ever have to do that.”
A potential miscarriage
On a Friday in early November 2018, McAlister arrived as usual for her shift at TydenBrooks, a Tallapoosa, Ga. plant that manufactures security products like tamper-evident seals. McAlister was a lead operator on the warehouse floor. A week earlier, she’d learned she was about six weeks pregnant with her second child. She hadn’t told anyone besides her husband, though she had scheduled an appointment with her doctor.
Shortly after her shift began, McAlister felt a sharp chest pain and a wave of abdominal cramping so severe that she doubled over, barely able to breathe. She made it to the bathroom, where she found she was also bleeding vaginally. She panicked and called her husband.
McAlister was terrified. With her first pregnancy she had preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy-related condition that can lead to dangerously high blood pressure, and she worried this pregnancy might be high-risk as well.
Her husband, Michael, told her to breathe and call her doctor. Her doctor told her she might be experiencing a miscarriage and to go home immediately to elevate her feet and try to prevent a miscarriage or further complications. If the bleeding didn’t stop after a few hours, she was told to go to the emergency room.
The bleeding and cramping eventually stopped, so McAlister rested over the weekend and returned to work the following Monday. When she showed up for work, she said, she was ushered into human resources and fired.
‘No fault’ attendance
McAlister considered her job at TydenBrooks a good one. It paid about $14 per hour, slightly less than the median income in Georgia, but it included health insurance benefits. Over the four years she worked there, McAlister said she was promoted and given supervisory responsibilities.
Her employer had a points-based attendance policy that penalized employees for missing a scheduled shift, arriving late or leaving early. One missed shift equaled one point; a late arrival or early departure equaled a half–point. If an employee accrued a certain number of points, the employee could be subject to termination.
This type of system is often called a “no fault” attendance policy because it assigns points regardless of the reason for an absence or tardiness.
But it’s a system that can discriminate by penalizing employees for legally protected absences, said Christine Dinan, McAlister’s attorney. Dinan works with the nonprofit labor rights advocacy group A Better Balance, which provides legal services to pregnant workers and other caregivers and has an office in Nashville.
In her four years at TydenBrooks, McAlister said she had accrued 5.5 points under the attendance policy. Six points was the baseline number that could lead to termination.
The morning she was terminated, an HR manager informed McAlister she had accrued six points because she left her shift early the previous Friday. Her employment was being terminated under TydenBrooks’ attendance policy, which TydenBrooks does not deny, in court documents filed in response to the lawsuit.
Dinan said McAlister’s absence the day she experienced pregnancy-related bleeding and pain should have been covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that allows employees to take pregnancy-related absences from work without being penalized. Though McAlister said she notified a supervisor before leaving work, FMLA does not require prior approval to take unforeseen FMLA-protected leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In recent years, “no fault” attendance policies have come under scrutiny, including from the federal government.
In 2015, an Illinois-based manufacturer agreed to pay a $1.7 million settlement after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the company discriminated against some employees by using a points-based attendance system that assessed points for medical-related absences protected under federal law. A similar EEOC case in 2018 resulted in a Memphis-based metal goods manufacturer agreeing to a $1 million settlement and revising its attendance policies.
Dinan said McAlister’s lawsuit is intended to make clear to “other employers who have policies like TydenBrooks that such policies violate federal law.”
Though the TydenBrooks policy said points wouldn’t be deducted for absences approved under FMLA, McAlister said her employer did not offer details explaining FMLA or what it covers, which her employer denies. TydenBrooks also maintains in court records that McAlister leaving that Friday morning did not constitute taking “leave” under FMLA.
Left without insurance
That morning in the HR manager’s office, McAlister said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing when she was told her job had been terminated.
“The entire time I’m thinking: Are you really firing me because I almost lost my baby?” McAlister recalled.
And at that point, she didn’t know for sure whether she’d miscarried. The bleeding and pain had stopped over the weekend but she hadn’t yet had her checkup, which was scheduled for that afternoon. She wouldn’t know until then whether her baby still had a heartbeat.
After she left the building, McAlister sat in her car and cried. She called her husband to tell him what happened. Then she called her doctor’s office and explained that she’d lost her job and her health insurance along with it.
She said the receptionist told her that without the insurance she’d have to pay out of pocket, nearly $500 for her scheduled appointment and ultrasound, and that the doctor couldn’t see her without partial payment up front.
“I said, ‘I have bills. I have another kid, and I can’t afford to pay that,’” McAlister recalled. “She apologized and said to call her when I had insurance.”
When she contacted local health departments, none of them were accepting new patients until the new year, she said.
A friend told her about a Christian nonprofit that offered ultrasounds and some prenatal care to women without insurance, but the earliest appointment available wasn’t for another three weeks.
So she waited three weeks, not knowing whether she was still pregnant, or whether her baby still had a heartbeat.
At the appointment three weeks later, McAlister learned her baby appeared to be healthy. She cried when she found out. She said she was told the bleeding and pain the occurred that day at the plant were likely the result of a subchorionic hemorrhage, a type of pregnancy-related blood clot.
The McAlisters later bought a basic health insurance plan through the Federal healthcare exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. It covers most doctors’ appointments but doesn’t cover prescriptions like her employer-provided insurance.
Her son Bentley was born in 2019, joining his big sister and his parents. Overall, he’s healthy but has a medical condition that McAlister said requires expensive prescription medications that aren’t covered by their bare-bones health insurance plan. She and her husband both work at small businesses that do not offer health insurance.
“It’s definitely tight,” she said. “It makes it hard when you have to decide between buying your son’s medication or paying the power bill.”
She eventually connected with Dinan through A Better Balance’s free helpline and they filed suit in November 2020. The lawsuit, filed in Georgia’s Northern District Court, has been referred for mediation. McAlister is seeking damages for lost wages and benefits, reinstatement of her job, attorney’s fees, and an injunction requiring TydenBrooks to amend its attendance policy to comply with the FMLA.
“I want to be a voice for people who felt like they don’t have one, who feel like they have to choose between their job and their family because of rules and regulations that prevent them from being able to take care of things when they need to,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to choose.”