Friday, May 25, 2007

Jury hits Kohl's big in "family responsibility discrimination" case

To help drive home yesterday's post about family responsibility discrimination, a Cuyahoga County jury today awarded a former assistant manager for Kohl's Department Stores $2.1 million. The plaintiff, Teresa Lehman, claimed that she was discriminated against because of her parenting role for her two young children. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the evidence at trial showed that in "two-month period, five store-manager jobs went to less-experienced and less qualified men than Lehman, or to women with no children or women who assured their bosses that they would have no more children." At the same time, Lehman, who had previously been told by her bosses that she was manager material and on track for a promotion, was passed over and transferred to less desirable stores. Witnesses testified at trial that Lehman's bosses asked her questions such as: "You're not going to get pregnant again, are you," "Did you get your tubes tied," "I thought you couldn't have any more kids," "Are you breast feeding," and "Are you having any more kids?"

In a lesson that all employers should take to heart, the Plain Dealer quotes juror Linh Duong's explanation of the panel's sentiments: "I think she was very poorly treated because she was pregnant, because she wanted to have a family."

This stunning success for Teresa Lehman will further underscore for employees and plaintiffs' lawyers that judges and juries will not give a free pass to employers whose decisions exhibit an intent to discriminate against women who want to work and have a family at the same time. I wrote yesterday that this type of discrimination should be a lesson in HR 101. Companies need to pay careful attention to verdicts such as this one. This issue bears close watching, as it appears it will be a hot button issue in employment law for the foreseeable future.