Boston-based IT services provider Keane Inc. faces a discrimination suit because of what a manager didn’t say when an employee announced she was pregnant with twins.
The employee, who worked as a recruiter from her home in Columbus, made the announcement during a conference call with five co-workers. When the others offered congratulations, her manager said nothing. What’s more, the manager never discussed the matter with her at all.
Two months later, the manager fired her as part of a work force reduction, citing her lack of seniority and low-growth territory. The woman sued, and Keane won summary judgment in 2005. But in an unusual ruling, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, based in part on the manager’s silence during the meeting and afterward, when he failed to inquire how the employee planned to manage and whether the company could do anything to help her.
After your eye stops twitching, resist the temptation to tear up your employee handbook and start over. It’s still best to let pregnant employees broach the subject of how they’ll deal with pregnancy and parenting, or what accommodations they might need. But managers should note that clamming up doesn’t shield them from all harm—and nobody ever went to court for saying, “Congratulations!”