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Pregnancy bias doubly damaging in NYC

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A woman who won a jury award against her employer for pregnancy discrimination may end up collecting even more money as punitive damages under a New York City ordinance.

Recent case: Veronika, who worked in New York City, became pregnant and took maternity leave after giving birth. When she was ready to come back to work, she contacted her employer to discuss her return.

She claims she got the runaround. The payroll manager told her she needed to discuss the details of her return with her supervisor, who said she needed to talk to a different supervisor who was on vacation. When she finally reached that supervisor, she was allegedly told, “We no longer need your services.”

She ended up filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint with the EEOC, in which she added pregnancy discrimination claims under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

Meanwhile, Veronika continued to apply for jobs with her former employer, but alleged she wasn’t rehired because her supervisor was angry about her complaint.

After a trial, a jury awarded her $10,000 in lost wages and another $50,000 for pain and suffering. The trial judge had refused to allow Veronika to request punitive damages, since under federal law she had to show that her employer had acted with either malice or reckless indifference to her rights.

Veronika appealed and now the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has asked New York courts to decide whether NYCHRL, which states it should be “liberally construed,” requires a lesser standard for punitive damage awards than malice or reckless indifference.

As a result, New York City employers may soon find out whether it will be easier for employees to get punitive damages. (Chauca v. Abraham, et al., No. 15-1720, 2nd Cir., 2016)

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