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Management company pays big for pregnancy discrimination

by on
in Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Maternity Leave Laws

Carole Smith, who worked for property management firm Normandy Properties, began her maternity leave a few weeks before giving birth. The child then required two weeks of neonatal hospitalization before being released. Smith’s doctor released her to return to work about eight weeks after the birth.

But Normandy had demanded she return four weeks after the birth or she would lose her job. When Smith failed to return in four weeks, the firm fired her. She sued under the Civil Rights Act.

At trial, Normandy claimed Smith refused to follow company rules by not informing the company of her return date. The jury was not convinced and awarded her $600,000 in compensatory damages. Then it assessed the company $1.2 million in punitive damages.

Pending an appeal, the company has rehired Smith as a leasing agent.

Note: Federal law bars employers from discriminating against workers based on pregnancy. That includes expectant fathers, too. Anytime an employee is off work for the birth of a child, employers must stay in touch and thoroughly document all actions it takes regarding when the employee will return to work.

Advice: Juries are naturally inclined to sympathize with new parents. Be able to show you followed all the rules … or be prepared to lose such lawsuits.

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