Women’s rights are consistently being threatened across the country, as vulnerable employees are forced to choose between keeping their jobs, or taking care of their pregnancies in a medically sound fashion. Women are speaking out more than even against the discriminatory actions of their employers, as evinced by the approximately 50% rise in lawsuits based on pregnancy discrimination over the past 15 years.
A California Case of Note
When her California employer demoted Rosairo Juarez, she believed it was for one reason – because she was pregnant. She decided to push the issue in court, and her employer responded by firing her. That employer, AutoZone, experienced a loss of unprecedented proportions. A jury awarded punitive damages in the amount of $185 million. Although the parties later settled for an undisclosed amount in order to avoid an appeal, the astounding award sends a serious message to corporate America.
California State Law
The Juarez case was brought under the Fair Housing and Employment Act (FHEA), specific to California. The law does a couple of things:
- It guarantees pregnant employees who are covered by health insurance receive medical leave;
- It ensures reasonable accommodations be provided when requested.
This act, like federal law, bans workplace discrimination. Unlike federal law, California does not cap awards for punitive and/or emotional suffering. It turns out to have been a good move to try the case in state court.
Federal law has prohibited pregnancy discrimination since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. A recent Supreme Court case that pitted Peggy Young against UPS supported the notion that pregnant women must be provided the same accommodations provided to individuals with disabilities, persons who had been injured on the job, or those who had lost their driving certification. Young had simply asked to be given a light duty assignment during her pregnancy. Instead, she was told she was ineligible for light duty, and would be forced to take unpaid leave. In its majority decision, the court asked, “…why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” UPS has changed its policy, and other corporations would be wise to following suit. It is clear from the court’s ruling that if other workers are accommodated, pregnant women must be accommodated, regardless of convenience or cost.
A Pending Case in California
When Nasty Gal, a clothing retailer out of Los Angeles, laid off one-tenth of its staff, it impacted all of the pregnant employees, and the only man on staff scheduled to take FMLA paternity leave. Four employees are suing the company. It remains to be seen how the courts will view this case, but it would not be surprising to see Nasty Gal regretting its layoff decisions.
A Vigorous Fight
If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace based on pregnancy, the law is on your side. Judges and juries are proving that this type of bias in the workplace is not to be tolerated. At HKM, our experienced legal team is ready, willing, and able to put in a sustained, dynamic effort in the defense of our clients. Contact us today in Los Angeles for a free, confidential consultation.