Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hard to believe that overt pregnancy discrimination still exists … yet it does

Pregnancy discrimination has been unlawful under federal law since 1978. You’d think by now employers would have learned their lesson—that women should not have to choose between being pregnant and being employed. Yet, this recent story from the Washington Business Journal suggests otherwise.
A former employee of a D.C. Chipotle Mexican Grill who claimed she was fired because she became pregnant has won her discrimination case against the Mexican restaurant chain. 
The jury in the case, which filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2014, awarded Doris Garcia Hernandez $550,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after determining that her former manager did indeed terminate her due to her pregnancy.… 
“Upon learning of her pregnancy, David told Ms. Garcia that she had to announce to every employee in the store when she was going to the bathroom and that David would have to approve her bathroom breaks so that he could cover her work position for her,” the original suit stated. “David did not impose these requirements on non-pregnant employees.” 
After the manager ignored Garcia’s repeated requests to leave work early for a pre-natal doctor’s appointment, she left for the appointment anyway. The next day, the manager fired her in front of other employees in the main area of the restaurant, according to the suit.
This should not be a complex legal issue. It shouldn’t even be a complex moral issue. Yet, there are still bosses that become outraged when a pregnant employee wants to keep working. There are more complex issues that arise with pregnant workers—pregnancy-related disabilities, in vitro fertilization and infertility, same-sex couples, to name a few. I should be stunned when employers muff the easy ones (but I’m not).

So, employers, heed the EEOC’s words on this issue, or ignore them at your peril:
Employers can also violate Title VII by making assumptions about pregnancy, such as assumptions about the commitment of pregnant workers or their ability to perform certain physical tasks. As the Supreme Court has noted, “[W]omen as capable of doing their jobs as their male counterparts may not be forced to choose between having a child and having a job.” Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes a prohibition against employment decisions based on pregnancy, even where an employer does not discriminate against women generally. As with other sex-based stereotypes, 
Title VII prohibits an employer from basing an adverse employment decision on stereotypical assumptions about the effect of pregnancy on an employee’s job performance, regardless of whether the employer is acting out of hostility or a belief that it is acting in the employee’s best interest.
And, because I know that employers often don’t do the right thing, I (sadly) know that this issue is one that we will be revisiting again, sooner rather than later.