The EEOC is serious about pursuing discrimination cases filed under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – very serious — especially if you fire a pregnant employee because of outdated myths or stereotypes or couched in the language of safety and health That is, you cannot claim that disparate treatment of pregnant employees is justified by concern for the unborn child. We have repeatedly issued this warning, and have cited new case filings or settlements to support our concerns.
Take this seriously because the EEOC has made obtaining not just monetary damages but also “targeted, equitable relief” – such as all sorts of injunctions — one of its top priorities, as noted in its Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016. This means that you could be scrutinized closely by the EEOC and/or the Court for years.
Last November we did a post about an employer who “could not allow [the pregnant employee] to continue to work as a housekeeper because of the potential harm to the development of her baby.” We also wrote that the EEOC had announced the settlement of a pregnancy discrimination case in Mississippi where a pregnant female employee at a bar was fired without warning and without prior disciplinary action because, as it was told to her, "The baby is taking its toll on you." And in J’s Seafood Restaurant of Panama City, Florida two servers were fired because “their pregnancies caused them to be a liability to the company.”
The EEOC just today announced that it has chalked up another such settlement with the owner of a Michigan Comfort Inn, who has agreed to pay $2,500 in back pay and $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after it fired a pregnant employee because, as the EEOC said, “it could not allow the employee to continue to work as a housekeeper because of the potential harm to the development of her baby.”
Point 1 – do not presume to know what’s best for a pregnant employee or use as an excuse for firing your purported concern for her health or the health of the fetus. It is against the law.
Point 2 – it is not only against the law and you may be liable for substantial money damages, but as this new Comfort Inn settlement shows, the employer will be subject to a permanent injunction (remember the EEOC’s Strategic Plan about “targeted, equitable relief?”) which, among other things, restrains the company from discriminating against an employee due to her pregnancy or requiring a pregnant employee to provide medical documents that releases her to work; requires that employer to provide sex and pregnancy discrimination training to all employees; requires the drafting of a new employee policy regarding sex and pregnancy discrimination and the posting of a notice regarding the lawsuit for all employees; and requires the company report to the EEOC for four years.
An EEOC spokesperson said previously that "Employers have a duty to know the law and to follow it. Women have the right to work, including during pregnancy. The EEOC will continue to use appropriate means to protect this right." They really mean it.