On Monday, November 17, 2014, an eight year long legal battle ended when a federal jury awarded plaintiff $185M in punitive damages in her pregnancy discrimination case against AutoZone.
Plaintiff was employed by AutoZone initially as a retail sales person, then a Parts Sales Manager, and ultimately a Store Manager. After she became pregnant, she was demoted and later terminated. She alleged that AutoZone had a policy against promoting women, that she was discriminated against based on gender and pregnancy, and that she was demoted and later terminated for having complained about it. In addition, Plaintiff was allegedly not compensated as required by California and federal labor laws.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake – Follow the Law
Federal law expressly prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy. Many states also have laws prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy, related medical conditions and gender.
Employers with more than 15 employees are covered by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Prohibited discriminatory treatment under the PDA would include treating a woman differently due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition(s) in any aspect of employment. This would include: hiring, termination, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. It is also unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
Specifically, the PDA act states: “Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.”
While this law provides accommodations and leave for pregnant employees, it also allows pregnant women to work as long as they feel they are able to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Even when an employer believes it is acting in an employee’s best interest, adverse actions based on assumptions or stereotypes are prohibited.
Employers may be found to have violated the PDA under the following circumstances:
• Compelling a pregnant employee to assume a light duty assignment if the employee does not request accommodations.
• Involuntarily reassigning a pregnant employee to a lower paying job involving fewer deadlines based on an assumption that a pregnant employee cannot handle stress and/or fast-paced work required in her current job and could increase risks associated with her pregnancy.
• Forcing an employee to go on leave before she and her healthcare provider request it.
• Requiring her to remain on leave until the baby’s birth.
• Prohibiting an employee from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth.
• Taking adverse employment actions, including those related to hiring, assignments, or promotion, that are based on an employer’s assumptions or stereotypes about pregnant workers’ attendance, schedules, physical ability to work, or commitment to their jobs.
• Taking adverse action against a pregnant worker because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers.
• Treat pregnant employees the same way you treat all of your other employees.
• When an employee informs you she is pregnant let her know of her rights under the law and that accommodation or leave is available if she needs it.
• Let her and her doctor decide if she can do her job or not.
• Tell her to let you know right away if her condition changes and she needs an accommodation.
• Don’t require medical certification, unless she requests an accommodation or time off due to her pregnancy.
• Offer light duty or accommodations to pregnant employees as you would any other employees who are similarly disabled.
Pregnant Women Today
Things have changed since the days of knitting booties and taking it easy. Today, pregnant women head up large corporations, work as police officers, run marathons, compete in sports, and perform other remarkable feats.
Here’s a list of interesting facts about pregnant women.
• Regan Schreiber crossed the English Channel when she was 11 weeks pregnant.
• Kristi Moore competed in the Olympics in the Skeleton Race while 5 ½ months pregnant.
• Aimee Roseborrough rock climbed up to her 8th month of pregnancy.
• Amber Miller completed the Chicago Marathon, and gave birth a few hours later.
• Marissa Mayer is heading up Yahoo as CEO, while pregnant.