A Hawaiian retailer will pay $60,000 for discriminating against one of its employees before and after she gave birth to her child. Step Three, Ltd., which does business as Sandal Tree, is a retailer of women’s sandals with stores across Hawaii. The company will be settling with one of its former buyers. The buyer underwent infertility treatments and eventually became pregnant. While undergoing treatments she was subjected to offensive comments about her desire to have children. She faced continued harassment once she became pregnant. She was then fired because she said she could not travel due to her pregnancy. Along with the $60,000, the former buyer will be able to get neutral references from Step Three, Ltd., and the company will take steps to prevent further discrimination.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination based on essentially any aspect of pregnancy. It covers efforts to become pregnant, being pregnant, pregnancy related illnesses, and in some cases maternity leave. Pregnancy related discrimination is also addressed in other federal laws. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has provisions for expressing milk and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants up to 12 weeks of leave to recent parents. The FMLA only grants unpaid leave, but it does protect the employee’s position by preventing employers from finding a permanent replacement to fill the position. Additionally, the FMLA provision is not gender specific. This means that under federal law both fathers and mothers can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their newborn baby.
Washington State’s Family Leave Act (FLA) grants pregnant women an additional 12 weeks of leave on top of FMLA. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination also prohibits pregnancy discrimination, classifying it as sex discrimination. This means that women who wish to become pregnant, are pregnant, or have recently had a child cannot be discriminated against in any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, and promotion. It also prevents the type of harassment that the Hawaiian buyer suffered.
While reporting and filing discrimination claims can help stop the discriminatory activities, reporting the problem and filing can sometimes have less obvious ramifications. There is the possibility of retaliation, though many discrimination claimants will have already faced some retaliation. Retaliation is prohibited by virtually every non-discrimination employment law. But discrimination claims can also burn bridges, so to speak. Win or lose some employers will be less inclined to provide references for the employee. While this may not be a major concern for some, it is something to consider when deciding what remedies to seek. The former Step Three, Ltd. employee did not get her job back, but she did guarantee that her former employer would not harm her future non-discriminatory employment options.
If you belief you have suffered from pregnancy discrimination or have believe you have been discriminated against for other reasons in your employment, contact an employment attorney.