Category Archives: Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Pregnant Pause — Bosses’ Blasé Response Helps Discrimination Claim Survive

When Jennifer Martin emailed her boss at Tall Brown Dog, LLC, in 2015 to tell him that she was pregnant and needed to take a sick day, his response was less than congratulatory.

“OK,” he said without further comment, and then shifted directly into a discussion about his plan for her to increase her sales call activity.

Soon thereafter, she told the CEO of the company about her pregnancy, and he also responded as if channeling Spock.  He noted that “people have been pregnant here before,” and then “got very stoic, you know, and walked away,” according to Martin.

Such cold responses might be seen by some as simply the hyper-business-minded focus of small company managers or the social ineptitude of workaholics, but a federal judge in Michigan found that such non-supportive reactions could be interpreted by a jury as evidence of pregnancy discrimination against Martin, who was fired from her job days later.

Her bosses’ “reaction to Martin’s telling him that she was pregnant again (not congratulating her or acknowledging it in his response, and then moving on to discuss performance issues) could be viewed as suspect,” Judge Sean Cox wrote in his opinion in Martin v. Tall Brown Dog, LLC, denying summary judgment.

The case illustrates two basic truths:

  • Supervisors should never forget to be human beings in dealing with their subordinates – employees should be supported when they announce big news like pregnancies, or suffer health problems personally or in their families. Some supervisors feel paralyzed with fear about legal liability when issues like this arise.  Training from human resources or legal can help managers learn that complying with the law does not mean acting like unfeeling robots.
  • Pregnant employees are sympathetic plaintiffs. Woe to the company that has to explain to a jury why it was so harsh and unsupportive to an expectant mother.  It will be interesting to see whether this case settles or is tried to a verdict.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

AutoZone Lawyers Crash into the $186 Million Pregnancy Zone.

Pregnant woman at work with laptop looking stressedCertain types of employment lawsuits, like certain cars, are more dangerous than others, as AutoZone Stores – and its legal department – recently learned the hard way.

Store manager Rosario Juarez claimed she was harassed, demoted and terminated because of her sex and pregnancy, and was a victim of a “glass ceiling” at the company. She presented an array of damaging facts at trial, including that after years of successful employment and promotions, within one month of disclosing her pregnancy she was asked to take a lower position due to her pregnancy and suffered “more aggressive, mean and critical” supervision. When she complained to the human resources department, nothing was done and the record of her complaint was destroyed, she claimed. She also put forward evidence that the vice president of operations had said, “what are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of those women.”

This all sounds pretty bad, right? It gets worse. After she filed a charge of discrimination with the California state government, she was fired, with the company blaming her – apparently falsely – for a missing cash envelope.

At trial last year, a jury awarded her $872,720 in economic damages and emotional distress, and a whopping $185 million in punitive damages. The jury’s exorbitant award reflects, in part, how strongly our society feels about the mistreatment of pregnant women.

Late last year a federal judge affirmed the punitive damages award. In an opinion that should send chills down the spines of in-house counsel, the court noted that it was lawful to hold the company responsible for willful violation of the law as the jury could have found that AutoZone’s legal department “committed, authorized and/or ratified” the malicious, discriminatory actions. AutoZone is expected to appeal.
The case highlights that certain plaintiffs – the pregnant, the ill, the injured, the old and the weak (as well as those who selflessly care for them) – are more sympathetic than others, especially when they have a solid work history, as Ms. Juarez apparently did.

Don’t let this happen in your workplace – get in the zone – the empathy zone.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

EEOC Gives Birth to Pregnancy Rules – Father Unknown.

In case you missed it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued 40-plus pages of new guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues, including a fact sheet and Q&A guide. See http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy_guidance.cfm.

No new law, Executive Order or court decision spawned these publications, nor do they create any new laws. But the guidance does illustrate that the EEOC has made pregnancy discrimination a top priority. The guidance also helps employers address common pregnancy-related workplace issues, and the overlapping coverage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and laws relating to lactation breaks and working parents.

Regardless of whether you read the EEOC guidance, think about your mother and do the right thing: treat pregnant workers fairly and equally in all respects.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

%d bloggers like this: