Not every pregnancy is the same and not every pregnant woman can perform her job right up until she goes into labor.
While some women fly right through nine months with no work problems, others may need to modify their job duties or move to light-duty work.
Because there is so much variability and because women are protected from, it’s crucial to consider each case individually. HR should coordinate those decisions and approve any job moves that affect a pregnant employee. Otherwise, things can get messy fast, as the following case shows.
Recent case: Stacey worked for Gate Gourmet, a catering company that prepares meals for airlines at large airports. She was a customer service representative and was responsible for loading carts of food and drink onto airplanes, using a truck equipped with a lift.
Stacey continued to do her job after she got pregnant. At some point, she casually mentioned to a union steward that she might start having trouble with the truck at some point.
The steward contacted Stacey’s supervisor, who immediately swung into action.
He called a meeting with Stacey and concluded that if she couldn’t carry out her duties, then there would be no light-duty work available for her. He also demanded a doctor’s note. At no time did Stacey say she couldn’t do her job. Instead, she insisted everything was fine.
Her doctor then provided a note listing some restrictions. The supervisor then fired Stacey after telling her there were no light-duty jobs that fit her restrictions.
Stacey marched straight to the EEOC and filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint.
Meanwhile, Gate Gourmet disciplined the supervisor for firing Stacey when there was, in fact, a light-duty position available—wrapping silverware. In addition, the company had a policy that required all temporarily disabled employees to be offered light-duty work when available. It then tried to inform Stacey that she really hadn’t been fired.
About that time, Gate Gourmet received the EEOC complaint. It offered Stacey the light-duty job if she would agree to drop the case.
She refused and sued, adding a retaliation claim to the mix. Stacey argued that not only had she been fired for being pregnant, but she had been retaliated against, too.
The court agreed with Stacey. It reasoned that the supervisor’s actions were pregnancy discrimination even if the company later insisted it had never fired Stacey.
It used the “reasonable employee” test to conclude that Stacey had suffered retaliation.
Here’s why: Because the company asserted Stacey had never actually been fired, it retaliated against her for filing the EEOC complaint when it demanded she drop the suit in exchange for the light-duty job. In the court’s reasoning, the light-duty job was an. By tying the benefit to dropping the charges, the company was really withholding a benefit because Stacey had filed the complaint.
The court decided a reasonable employee might be dissuaded from filing an EEOC complaint if she risked losing an employee benefit as a result. (Chapter 7 Trustee v. Gate Gourmet, No. 11-11819, 11th Cir., 2012)
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