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Warn managers: Don’t make assumptions about pregnant employee’s capabilities

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Maternity Leave Laws

HR professionals must make sure that supervisors hear this message loud and clear: Don’t make any assumptions about what a pregnant woman can or cannot do. Voicing such presumptions and taking action based on them virtually guarantees a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.

While an employee’s pregnancy may sometimes be inconvenient and expensive for employers, women who choose to become parents deserve a chance to show they can do their jobs and become mothers at the same time.

Recent case: Amy Pizzimenti began working as a business analyst for Oldcastle Glass after acing the hiring process. She worked one day and then took a few hours off for a medical appointment she had previously scheduled. During that appointment, she learned she was three weeks pregnant and that her due date was the following New Year’s Day.

Pizzimenti met with her new supervisors the same day, and they discussed a major project that she would manage. Pizzimenti said she expected to complete the project by Thanksgiving. She then informed her supervisor that she was pregnant. Almost immediately, the supervisor’s demeanor changed, she would later allege.

The next day, she was called into a meeting. Surrounded by two supervisors on either side of her chair, she was informed for the first time that her new job required her to be on her feet 12 to 14 hours per day and that she had to travel three weeks out of every month.

One of the supervisors also told her that employees who miss any deadlines are terminated, and that any delays due to doctors’ appointments counted as missed deadlines. Pizzimenti interpreted this to mean that she would be fired for going to the doctor and agreed to resign. She signed a resignation letter her supervisor had prepared and was escorted out of the building.

Then Pizzimenti sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination. She said she felt she had no choice but to quit, since her supervisors made it clear they didn’t believe she could do her job while pregnant and would have fired her anyway.

At a pretrial hearing, the company argued she voluntarily resigned after she concluded she couldn’t do the job. It also argued that Pizzimenti wasn’t qualified for the job because she wouldn’t be able to fulfill the extensive travel requirements and meet her deadlines.

The court didn’t buy it for a second. The case will go to trial. (Pizzimenti v. Oldcastle Glass, No. 3:08-CV-2175, ND OH, 2009)

Final notes: The unspoken temptation may be for an employer to terminate a new employee who has announced a pregnancy because of the anticipated cost of that pregnancy and the inconvenience it may cause. Doing so will almost certainly cost more—not less—when litigation ensues.

Perhaps supervisors assume that firing a pregnant employee before she’s eligible for FMLA leave is legal. They forget that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (which has been the law far longer than the FMLA has been) protects women from this sort of blatant sex discrimination. It’s your job as an HR professional to educate them on the modern workforce.

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