St. Paul-based White Way Dry Cleaners has paid $42,250 to a former employee who filed an EEOC pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. (See “Did White Way play dirty when it fired pregnant worker?” in the October 2009 issue of Minnesota Employment Law.)

The case arose when Michelle Johnson was transferred from her job pressing clothes to a counter position after telling her bosses she was pregnant. White Way had a longstanding policy of transferring pregnant employees to protect them from chemicals used in the dry cleaning process. The company stopped the practice when it learned it was illegal.

Johnson later lost out on a raise, which she blamed on pregnancy discrimination. Ultimately, Johnson gave birth and returned to work after maternity leave.

After she told the company she was pregnant again, White Way fired her. The company maintains that Johnson was fired for alleged performance issues, including excessive absenteeism and frequently leaving work early.

Robert McClay, White Way’s attorney, had some choice words for the EEOC: “This case is economic warfare from a federal government agency that has unlimited resources against a very small employer.” White Way has nine stores in the Twin Cities area.

McClay said White Way chose to settle the case even though it contends it had done nothing wrong.

Under the agreement, White Way must report any other pregnancy discrimination claims to the EEOC for the next two years and must train managers and supervisors about discrimination issues.

Note: This may be a case where an employer innocently engaged in a discriminatory practice. Courts have made it clear that employees have the right to decide what risks they’re willing to take during pregnancy.

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