Wednesday, January 16, 2008

6th Circuit affirms maternal profiling verdict

I've been writing lately about maternal profiling, which is employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. Last week, the 6th Circuit, in Lulaj v. The Wackenhut Corporation, provides us a good example of this type of stereotyping in action.

Lisa Lulaj worked at Chrysler as a fire security officer, first as a Chrysler employee and then as an employee of Wackenhut Corporation after Chrysler outsourced its security operations. Lulaj accepted the transition to Wackenhut solely because she was promised a promotion to a supervisor position. Shortly after the transition, Lulaj filled out forms notifying Wackenhut that she was pregnant and would need a larger uniform. Within a month, her immediate supervisor offered her a lesser promotion than she was originally promised, looking at her stomach and telling her, "You should consider this position considering your position." Within a month, Lulaj went out on maternity leave. When Wackenhut refused to promote her to the originally promised supervisor position at the end of her leave, she decided not to return to work. She sued to pregnancy discrimination under Michigan law, and the jury awarded her a total of $200,000, to which the judge added $49,500 in attorney's fees. The trial judge also took away $142,168 in lost wages because the jury found that Lulaj had voluntarily quit and had not been constructively discharged.

The 6th Circuit rejected Wackenhut's argument that there was no nexus between Lulaj's pregnancy and the promotion decision. The the contrary, the court considered three pieces of evidence critical to its decision that Lulaj was discriminated against:

  1. Company managers were aware of her pregnancy long before she officially informed them.
  2. The timing of the events suggests discrimination.
  3. The way her superior glanced at her stomach suggested that pregnancy was a factor in denying the promotion.

This case is a good example of how maternal profiling can cause a bad result for an employer. At the same time, however, it sets a potentially dangerous precedent by allowing a discrimination claim to stand based in large part on subjective interpretations of glances and stares.

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