A Texas restaurant and bar was just sued by the EEOC. Reason? It fired a waitress because she was pregnant, allegedly telling her that “her baby’s health was at risk” because the bar is a smoking establishment. (In this case, as in so many others, the expressed “concern” may have been simply a cover for outright discriminatory animus since the owner complained that “she was starting to show”).
She was forced to take early maternity leave, “and never assigned her another shift thereafter, effectively discharging her.”
On July 8th we prefaced a post with the following boldly lettered warning: You Cannot Fire Or Place A Pregnant Employee On Leave Because “The Baby Is Taking Its Toll On You” Or Because Of Potential Harm To The Baby Or Because “Pregnant Women Should Not Work.”
Apparently the Texas bar did not know this, or disregarded it.
On March 13, 2013 we cautioned that the EEOC is very serious about pursuing discrimination cases filed under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), especially if you fire a pregnant employee because of outdated myths or stereotypes or couched in the language of safety and health. You cannot claim that disparate treatment of pregnant employees is justified by concern for the unborn child. See our post of April 18th.
Our recent post of June 25th related to a new suit in which the EEOC claimed that a spa franchise in Charlotte, NC fired a just-hired employee (a front desk associate) because she had just notified it that she was pregnant. According to the EEOC, the clinic manager told her that “pregnant women should not be working.”
Christina wrote last month about the EEOC’s newly-issued Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues. “The Guidance largely sets forth well-established interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the interplay with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and Title VII.” As evidence of the EEOC’s seriousness about this issue: it has just reported that since the start of fiscal year 2011, it has filed over 45 lawsuits involving pregnancy discrimination.
As an EEOC attorney noted in the press release about this latest Texas PDA case:
“Employers should be well beyond archaic prejudices against women who are pregnant. Too many employers have continued to deny female workers equal opportunity to earn a living for their families and themselves, simply because they are pregnant or ‘showing.’ The EEOC continues to combat such prejudices and practices as part of its efforts to educate the public about the rights of women in the workplace – everyone should be free from this obvious form of sex discrimination.”
We printed a great comment recently by Jim Watson, an HR generalist in the Detroit area, who warned HR folks about this aspect of the PDA, and provided some good advice. We reprint it here:
“Richard, great article. I think there are a lot of employers who erroneously make decisions to fire or remove pregnant employees from certain jobs out of misguided notions of protecting the employee/unborn child from certain work conditions or out of a general fear that the pregnant employee will get hurt and sue or drive up Workers Compensation costs.
I think it is vitally important that we HR professionals continue to help educate our employers that this type of thinking is no longer acceptable to the federal government and the agencies with activist agendas that get these types of complaints. Discussing such EEOC decisions helps to validate our message.
I have advised the management teams I have worked with in the past to make an individual assessment of each situation and to take appropriate action when necessary based upon the unique facts of that situation. Having good data and factual information to work with, not overreacting and talking with the employee are all suggested courses of action.”
Our Repeated Takeaway, Repeated Once More: Take this issue 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. This means that you could be scrutinized closely by the EEOC and/or the Court for years.