Articles Posted in Pregnancy Discrimination

Yesterday, a federal Judge in Manhattan dismissed a class action claim from a gender and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had filed against Bloomberg L.P. In the case, the EEOC alleged that Bloomberg had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant employees and female employees upon their return from maternity leaves. Judge Loretta A. Preska, the Chief Justice of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, dismissed the class action claim because she found the EEOC had not presented enough evidence to prove a pattern and practice of gender or pregnancy discrimination.

A pattern and practice case is when a group of employees claim a company has a broad practice or systemic pattern of unlawful discrimination. In this instance, the EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of female employees who claimed Bloomberg had demoted them, lowered their salaries, reduced the number of employees reporting to them, took away some of their job responsibilities, excluded them from meetings, and/or otherwise subjected them to stereotypes about female caregivers. In addition to the three plaintiffs named in the original lawsuit, 78 other women had joined the case, for a total of 81 class members.

Pregnancy Discrimination 2.jpgIn her 64-page opinion in EEOC v. Bloomberg L.P., Judge Preska explained that ordinarily employees have to prove a pattern and practice of discrimination with a combination of statistical and anecdotal evidence of discrimination, to show the discrimination was part of a company-wide pattern or practice. She indicated that it is unusual that anecdotal evidence alone can prove a pattern or practice of discrimination, especially at a large company like Bloomberg, which employs more than 10,000 employees.

However, the EEOC apparently did not have any statistical evidence to support its claim. It also did not have any direct evidence of discrimination, or any evidence of an explicitly discriminatory policy. Instead, it tried to rely only on anecdotal evidence of discrimination. This evidence included the fact that nearly every one of the class members claimed that Bloomberg had decreased her compensation, job responsibilities and/or number of direct reports, either after she became pregnant or after she returned from her maternity leave.

In contrast, Bloomberg had at least two expert witnesses who concluded that there was no pattern or practice of discrimination at the company. Specifically, one of Bloomberg’s expert witnesses, Dr. Michael Ward, used statistics to conclude that class members actually received higher average compensation than non-class members. He also found no significant differences between the raises class members received versus non-class members. Another expert for Bloomberg, Dr. John Johnson, concluded that the class members actually received nearly better raises after maternity leaves than employees who took time off for other reasons.

Ultimately, the Court concluded that while there might be some individual cases of pregnancy and gender discrimination at Bloomberg, the EEOC did not have enough evidence to prove a pattern or practice of discrimination. Accordingly, Judge Preska dismissed the class action from the case. However, the EEOC has indicated that it intends to continue to pursue the individual claims on behalf of the named plaintiffs.

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In an important employment law decision, on June 8, 2011, New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled that an employee can enforce her employer’s promise that she would have a job when she returned from her maternity leave. The Court reached that conclusion even though the company, Telcordia Technologies, Inc., included a clear disclaimer in both its Code of Business Ethics and the employee’s job application which stated that she is an employee-at-will who can be fired “at any time, with or without grounds, just cause or reason and without giving prior notice.”

In Lapidoth v. Telcordia Technologies, Inc., employee Sara Lapidoth asked her employer for a six-month maternity leave from her position as a manager on a product called ARIS, for the birth of her tenth child. The letter Telcordia sent her granting her leave also guaranteed that the company would reinstate her to the same job or a comparable one if she returned to work within 12 months. Ms. Lapidoth later asked Telcordia to extend her leave by 6 months, for a total of a one-year maternity leave. Telcordia granted her request through another letter that promised to reinstate her at the end of her leave.

Pregnancy Discrimination.jpgHowever, before Ms. Lapidoth was ready to return from her maternity leave, Telcordia decided to eliminate one of its two ARIS manager positions. The company decided to lay off Ms. Lapidoth because the only other ARIS manager had slightly better performance ratings. Since the company did not have any appropriate job openings, it fired Ms. Lapidoth.

The Appellate Division ruled that Ms. Lapidoth’s maternity leave was not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) because she took off more than 12 weeks. Both the FMLA and the NJFLA require employers to give qualified employees up to 12 weeks off for the birth of a child.

However, the Court ruled that the letters Telcordia sent to Ms. Lapidoth could be enforceable employment contracts that guaranteed her a job when she was ready to return from her maternity leave. It found that, even though the company’s Code of Business Ethics and Ms. Lapidoth’s employment application said she was an employee-at-will, and indicated that nothing else could create any contractual rights between her and the company, the letters granting her maternity leave seemed to contradict those statements. The Court also stated that, although the letters said the company did not have to reinstate Ms. Lapidoth if it had to eliminate her job, that was not necessarily a defense because the company decided it had to eliminate one of two ARIS manager positions, but not necessarily Ms. Lapidoth’s position. The Court also noted that Telcordia reinstated Ms. Lapidoth after each of her nine previous maternity leaves. Based on the circumstances, the Appellate Division concluded that a jury could find the letters guaranteeing Ms. Ladipodth a job at the end of her maternity leave created an enforceable employment contract.

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Earlier this year, President Obama signed a law which requires employers to provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers. This new employment law right is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), a federal law which requires employers to pay minimum wage to most employees, and overtime pay to most employees who work more than 40 hours per week.

The new law requires companies to give nursing mothers breaks each time the employee needs to express milk. It applies for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, employers are not required to pay employees during these breaks.

Employers also must give nursing mothers a place that is hidden from view and free from intrusion from other employees or the public. The law specifically says that the place cannot be a bathroom.

On May 30, 2008, in the case of Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”) protects a woman from discrimination because she had an abortion. The Third Circuit is the federal appellate court that includes the state of New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands.

Title VII makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 2000 amended Title VII to clarify that the prohibition of discrimination because of sex includes discrimination because of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” In C.A.R.S., the Court concluded that since an abortion is a pregnancy-related medical condition, it is illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee because she has had an abortion. This was the first time an appellate court covering the state of New Jersey had considered whether it is illegal to fire an employee because she had an abortion.

In reaching the conclusion that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals who have had an abortion, the Third Circuit relied on the 1996 decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Turic v. Holland Hospitality, Inc., which reached the same conclusion. The Court also gave significant consideration to a regulation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) which specifically states that a woman is protected from being fired because she is pregnant or has had an abortion. It also considered the legislative history of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which expressly recognizes that no employer may, for example, “fire or refuse to hire a woman simply because she has exercised her right to have an abortion.”

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