Much has changed in the world of employment law since working American Peggy Young filed suit against United Parcel Services (UPS) in 2008 for pregnancy discrimination. Young v. UPS received national attention when it made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. After SCOTUS ruled in favor of Young in March 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarified federal guidelines regarding pregnancy in the workplace.
Now, almost one year later, pregnancy discrimination suits – and settlements – have grown exponentially due to this newfound protected class of American workers.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision against UPS, the carrier giant entered settlement negotiations with Peggy Young. Although the terms of the settlement are primarily confidential, UPS’s new pregnancy accommodation policy played a large part in helping the two sides settle.
When Young became pregnant in 2006, she gave her supervisor a doctor’s note recommending she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds. At the time Young dealt almost exclusively with overnight letters, so this accommodation request should not have created a problem. However, UPS told Young that all drivers must be able to life packages as heavy as 70 pounds at any given time and placed her on unpaid leave.
Young – who not only lost her health insurance but was precluded from filing for unemployment because she had not been fired from her job – decided to take her fight to court. The awareness surrounding pregnancy discrimination has been increasing ever since.
A Bronx County jury awarded $6.2 million to three medical assistants who were ridiculed for their pregnancy-related girth, told to perform mindless tasks, and encouraged to remain childless. Marlena Santana, Yasminda Davis and Melissa Rodriguez were harassed by their employer, GEB medical Management, and falsely accused of poor performance. Once GEB suspected the three women of being pregnant, the employees – despite establishing themselves as solid performers and only holding their administrative jobs for less than one year – were all terminated.
“This verdict sends a message to all employers that they cannot harass and fire women for being pregnant,” said Scott A. Lucas, attorney for the plaintiffs. “They experienced some terrible circumstances as a result of their termination of employment and it is only right they are being justly compensated.”
“It was a very satisfying victory, despite the amount of time it took for the case to be heard,” said Steven M. Sack, who served as the plaintiffs’ co-trial counsel. “We fought this battle for eight long years, and truth and justice prevailed.”
And the recent wins for working mothers do not stop there.
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Level Four, a privately owned North Carolina health care company that specializes in providing orthotic and prosthetic care to pediatric and special needs patients, interviewed and hired Lesley Lawson for a billing and authorization specialist position in early May 2013. In early June 2013, Lawson requested approximately four weeks of maternity leave beginning around August 2013.
According to the EEOC's complaint on behalf of Lawson, her supervisor began making plans to cover Lawson's work while she was away on maternity leave. However, the company fired Lawson in late June 2013 after her supervisor told the company's then-owner about Lawson's maternity leave request. Level Four agreed to pay $48,000 in July 2015 to settle its discrimination suit with Lawson.
Arthur's Restaurant and Bar, a fine dining steakhouse and lounge in Dallas, agreed to pay $20,000 in August 2015 to a former cocktail server to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. The restaurant unlawfully fired cocktail server Jennifer Todd on August 8, 2012, during her seventh month of pregnancy. She was fired when the company told her it decided she should begin her maternity leave early.
Arthur's claimed they acted out of concern for the health of the mother and baby. Todd was fired soon after Arthur's owner made a comment to her saying she was "starting to show." An employer’s arbitrary decision to terminate an employee because she is approaching the delivery of her child is outdated and fundamentally denies the employee’s right to monetarily support an expanding family.
An international flight institution, KS Aviation, (dba Sierra Academy of Aeronautics), headquartered and operated out of California, agreed to pay $60,000 in September 2015 to settle a pregnancy discrimination charge filed with the EEOC.
A female aircraft mechanic alleged in her 2013 EEOC charge that she was fired by the aviation company president after she notified him she was pregnant and had a medical condition.
Shipley's Donuts, a Texas-area franchise, agreed to pay $45,000 in November 2015 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. Shipley’s forced Brooke S. Foley to take unpaid leave after Shipley's owner and general manager received information that Foley might be pregnant.
According to the EEOC, Shipley's would not allow Foley to continue working unless she provided a doctor's release indicating that her pregnancy was not "high-risk." The lawsuit further alleged that when Foley failed to provide such a release, and after she and her mother complained that Shipley's could not require her to do so, she was fired.
Shefa Wellness Center, a Georgia medical practice specializing in cosmetic skin care treatments, agreed to pay $37,000 in December 2015 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. April Raines, who was employed by Shefa Wellness Center as a skin care specialist, was fired just two days after informing the company's owner of her pregnancy.
The agency alleged that when Raines questioned why she was terminated, the employer told her that she had deceived the company by not disclosing her pregnancy during the interview. Such causally connected treatment is now “textbook” pregnancy discrimination under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Young’s Supreme Court victory has encouraged women throughout the country to turn to the courts to protect their right to work while furthering their families. The EEOC’s pursuit of these rights on behalf of working women has made countless settlements and other forms of relief possible. When the EEOC updated its enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination in early 2014, it was the first time a comprehensive update had been issued on the subject since 1983.
The swirl of pregnancy discrimination suits throughout the past year continues to keep this new area of employment law in the spotlight, which has given rise to an overall increase in pregnancy discrimination awareness nationwide. Employers would be apt to check their pregnancy accommodation guidelines and work with both human resources and leave-of-absence departments to assist pregnant employees.