It is fairly well-known that an employer who undertakes an action harmful toward an employee simply because that employee is pregnant is liable for impermissible discrimination. However, what happens when the employer allegedly acts out of concern for the mother-to-be or her unborn child? The answer, in short, is that if an employer’s action is professionally adverse for the pregnant employee, regardless of the reasons, the action is discriminatory. A debt collection company employee and the revocation of her promotion recently served as a case in point.
The facts underlying this case are something that takes place unfortunately too often. Carolyn was a successful employee with a debt collection company in Hackensack. Things were probably exciting for Carolyn because she had just earned a promotion to collections manager with the company. On the personal side, she was also pregnant.
When the employee announced her pregnancy to her employer, things changed dramatically. The employer took back the promotion. The employer concluded that the woman’s pregnancy, which would last through the employer’s busy tax season, would be a problem. Additionally, the employer unilaterally decided that the stress and long hours involved in being a collections manager with their company were not conducive to the overall health of a pregnant woman. Instead, the employer told Carolyn to “focus on her health,” according to an HR Daily Advisor report.
This action led the woman to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC, in turn, filed a lawsuit on the woman’s behalf in 2015 after it failed to resolve the dispute through a conciliation process. Eventually, the company ceased participating in the litigation process, and, on June 2, 2017, a federal judge issued a default judgment in favor of the EEOC. The judgment imposed a damages award against the employer for an amount in excess of $118,000.
The EEOC rightly hailed the outcome as an important reminder of what an employer should do and should avoid doing when dealing with pregnant employees. “Making employment decisions based on the assumption that pregnancy somehow diminishes a woman’s ability to perform her job is unacceptable,” EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Rosemary DiSavino said in a press release announcing the judgment.
In short, an employer, even if that employer is sincerely concerned about an employee’s health and well-being, is not allowed to make assumptions (and employment decisions) related to an employee’s ability to perform based solely upon her being pregnant without running afoul of discrimination laws. Employment decisions that can potentially be discriminatory and trigger employer liability can range from adverse actions like rescinding promotions (as happened in this case) to forcing an employee into a light-duty job due to concern for the health of the unborn baby (as happened in a 2010 Sixth Circuit federal case originating in Kentucky).
Pregnancy discrimination unfortunately still takes place in workplaces today. If you believe that your employer discriminated against you as a result of your being pregnant, you may have a claim for damages. Talk to the knowledgeable New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates, who have been helping workers with their pregnancy discrimination and other discrimination cases for many years. Contact us online or at (619) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.
More blog posts:
New Jersey Township’s First Female Police Officer Receives $355,000 Sex Discrimination Award, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, May 4, 2017
Divorcing Rescue Squad Employee Allowed to Pursue Marital Status Discrimination Claim, New Jersey Supreme Court Says, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 20, 2017