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Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Brought by Employee Who Lost Work at Home Privileges

What if you work at home, become pregnant, tell your employer, and he says fine, no problem, just keep doing your job. Then suddenly you are told that you your job is changing, and you have to work in the office now. Same job, different location. Is that pregnancy discrimination?

Nicole Mete thinks so. She worked for Sears as a recruiter starting in February 2010. After she announced she was pregnant, her job conditions were modified so she could no longer work from home most days. In a complaint filed this week, she alleges that Sears violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, by suddenly requiring her to work from the office four days a week, despite the fact that she had consistently worked from home since her hire. The financial impact of the change forced Mete to resign, according to the suit.

Mete was responsible for recruiting field management for Kmart stores in a region encompassing several states. Although she was based in Illinois, she could perform virtually every function of her job from home, according to the complaint. Throughout her tenure, she was allowed to work from home more often and eventually was told she only had to come into the office for face-to-face meetings once or twice a week, the suit says.

All of Sears' recruiters in similar positions worked primarily from home, whether they were based near the company's headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, or out of state, according to the complaint.

But the terms and conditions of Mete's employment changed just after she announced her pregnancy and need for FMLA leave, the suit says. Her supervisors told her that when she returned from maternity leave, she would be required to work in the office four days a week, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that "In addition to how it treated Plaintiff, Defendant's negative view of women who have children and take maternity leave was also evidenced by negative comments from upper management. For example, in reference to an employee who was pregnant at the same time as Plaintiff, Sherry Nolan-Shultz ("Nolan-Shultz"), Jemo's boss and one of Plaintiff's superiors, encouraged another employee to learn the pregnant employee's job, even though the pregnant employee planned to return to work. When this was pointed out to Nolan-Shultz she responded, "Oh, they never come back," in reference to female employees who take maternity leaves. Nolan-Shultz's comment is further evidence of Defendant's animus against pregnant employees."

Mete went on maternity leave in March 2013. Despite voicing her concerns about the new schedule to her supervisors, Sears refused to allow her to return to the same schedule, according to the complaint. Mete says she was forced to resign in May 2013 because of the financial impact of the changes.

Mete claims Sears engaged in gender discrimination under Title VII and unlawful conduct and retaliation under the FMLA. The FMLA makes it unlawful for any employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice it makes unlawful. Similarly, the FMLA makes it unlawful for any employer to discharge or discriminate against anyone for taking part in proceedings or inquiries under the FMLA. Mete is seeking an award of all compensation and benefits lost, along with other damages, attorneys' fees and court costs.

If you are employed in New York and you have been discriminated against by your employer due to your pregnancy, call the attorneys at Schwartz and Perry LLP to enforce your rights.
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