Pregnant Woman Fired Because Boss Didn’t Want to “Offend” Customers
What employees need to know about pregnancy discrimination
You’re pregnant? Well, you can’t work here. The customers wouldn’t like it.
According to a recent lawsuit, that’s the message one worker claims she received when she informed her supervisor that she was expecting.
Despite laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, many women each year allege that they’re subjected to unfair or unlawful treatment because of their pregnancies or related conditions. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws, received over 3,500 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2015.
Keep in mind, that number only reflects the women who took steps to formally complain. There are likely countless other women who quietly accept unlawful treatment every year, believing that they are without recourse.
Let’s take a look at what happened to the woman we mentioned above and then talk about pregnant women’s rights in the workplace.
Belly up to the bar
Michelle Viscusi was less than a year into her bartending job at the Moonshine Whisky Bar and Grill when she found out that she was pregnant.
Although Viscusi was excited about her condition, she largely kept the news to herself. In fact, she didn’t tell her managers for fear that it “wouldn’t go well.” However, as in many workplaces, the rumor mill churned, and word of Viscusi’s pregnancy eventually reached her bosses.
Viscusi was then told that having a pregnant woman working behind the bar would look bad for the company. She replied that she was still capable of performing her job duties and explained that she was “pregnant, not handicapped.”
She was terminated.
Viscusi filed a complaint with the EEOC. The agency attempted to work with her former employer to address the complaint, but the company refused to cooperate. Finally, because the employer failed to respond to the agency, the EEOC held a default hearing to settle the matter.
During the hearing, Viscusi played an audiotape that she had recorded prior to her termination. In it, one of the company owners can be heard saying, “Do you want to be showing your belly behind a bar? This is not being prejudiced against it; it's me looking at things how other people can see it. There’s gonna be a whole number of people that I would be offending by allowing a pregnant person to be behind a bar. They might look at it as the owners are [expletive] idiots; they're letting a girl that's pregnant, that she could get injured behind the bar, bartend right now?”
The judge described the company’s behavior as “deplorable.”
The Moonshine Group was ordered to pay over $66,000, including $41,647 to Viscusi for back pay and damages and $25,000 for management conduct training.
(The case discussed here is EEOC v. The Moonshine Group.)
What employees need to know
It’s important to know that unlawful pregnancy discrimination may include a variety of acts. The EEOC lists the following as common violations:
- refusing to hire, failing to promote, demoting, or firing pregnant workers after learning they are pregnant;
- discharging workers who take medical leave for pregnancy-related conditions (such as a miscarriage);
- limiting employment opportunities for pregnant women, such as by placing them on involuntary leave, refusing to let them continue working beyond a certain point in the pregnancy, reducing work hours, or limiting work assignments due to employer safety concerns;
- requiring medical clearances not required of non-pregnant workers;
- failing to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions where similar accommodations are or would be provided to non-pregnant workers;
- refusing to allow lactating mothers to return to work; and
- retaliating against employees—or those close to pregnant employees—who complained about pregnancy discrimination.
If you believe that you’ve been treated unlawfully because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney who has experience fighting for women’s rights.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.