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Tell bosses: Careless comments cause lawsuits

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The only appropriate response to a pregnancy announcement is “Congratulations.” No smart aleck comments, no questions about family size, no wondering aloud how long the employee expects to be out. If the pregnant employee asks about leave, her boss should refer her to HR.

Recent case: Erica was a luxury goods buyer for Gucci America, a subsidiary of the famed Italian company. Her job involved marketing women’s handbags and other leather accessories in the United States. She traveled to Florence several times a year to select goods for the U.S. market. She got excellent reviews and met all her sales goals.

Then the company appointed a new president, who felt the entire company should be revamped. He hired a new general merchandise manager who met with Erica to ­discuss plans to reorganize.

Around the same time, Erica announced she was pregnant. The new general manager, an Italian, bombarded Erica and another pregnant employee with questions about U.S. policies on maternity leave and whether the two expected to take long work breaks after giving birth. She added, “Wow, all these pregnant girls, what are we going to do with all of them.”

Shortly after, Erica was terminated in a reduction in force and the other pregnant employee was demoted.

Erica sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination. She showed the court that although her job was technically eliminated, a new position with almost identical duties was created and filled by a nonpregnant employee with much less experience.

The company argued its RIF was legitimate, but the court said a jury should decide whether it was merely an excuse to get rid of a pregnant employee. (Crisses v. Gucci America, No. 10-Civ-8393, SD NY, 2012)

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