In November 2004, members of the board of Maracci Temple 13 in Detroit called Eronda Garner into a meeting. Garner, a part-time bartender for the Grenadier Lounge, which the temple runs, was pregnant.
The board told her she was being let go because it feared tending bar was unsafe for a pregnant woman. “Things happen in a bar,” one board member said, “and the board does not want anything bad to happen to you which could get us in trouble.”
Garner filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. In July 2007, she won summary judgment on her claims, and in July 2008, a Michigan district court awarded damages.
The court awarded more than $27,000 in back wages, estimating her income at $10.50 per hour for 17 hours per week over 42 months, the period between her termination and the 2007 judgment. The court also awarded $35,000 for emotional distress, finding that being fired right before the holidays forced Garner to apply for public assistance for herself and her older child. The court found that the timing prevented Garner from providing “a proper Christmas” for her child.
The judge awarded only $1,000 in punitive damages, however, finding that while the board’s conduct was “ill-advised and paternalistic” and violated the law, it was not “reprehensible” or part of a larger pattern of conduct.
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