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Record of support for pregnant women, working moms helps win discrimination cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Maternity Leave Laws

Employers that support pregnant and working mothers fare better if they do get sued by someone who believes she suffered pregnancy discrimination. That’s because courts are reluctant to believe that an organization would suddenly become biased after demonstrating a history of progressive policies for pregnant women and working mothers.

Take the case of a company that hires women who were out on maternity leave with their current employers at the time of hire, or who have recently returned to work after taking maternity leave. That’s an employer that should be able to win a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, as the following case shows.

Recent case: Donna Muhleisen worked for a manufacturer and distributor of children’s clothing that went into  bankruptcy. She had headed up a clothing line for the company, which was purchased by another company.

Muhleisen was on maternity leave at the time her clothing line was purchased, and the new owner personally offered her a job with his company. He knew she was on maternity leave.

Muhleisen asked to be allowed to work four days per week, and the owner agreed. She was offered a base salary of $250,000, with a $100,000 bonus, and went to work.

About six months later, she again became pregnant. Around the same time, the new company began to review its overhead amid a downturn in the retail industry. It concluded that some departments could be consolidated, as there were about a dozen department heads earning salaries similar to Muhleisen’s. Meanwhile, she went out on a paid 12-week maternity leave.

Before she was scheduled to return, she learned that her position had been cut. She sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination.

But the company showed that it had terminated others, too, who had never taken maternity leave. Plus, it showed that it cut the department heads who had the greatest unsold inventory, including Muhleisen. The court dismissed the case.

It explained that it did not seem likely that a company that hired someone who was already on maternity leave and then offered the employee 12 paid weeks of leave, plus allowed a special work schedule, would turn around and discriminate against working mothers. (Muhleisen v. Wear Me Apparel, No. 07-CIV-8748, SD NY, 2009)

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