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Beware FEHA suit when terminating new mother

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

If a woman who has been fired sues for pregnancy discrimination, she doesn’t have to prove that her pregnancy was the sole reason for the termination. She merely has to show that it was a motivating factor.

Recent case: Lorena was a collections clerk for a publishing company. When she got pregnant, she informed her employer that she would be taking childbirth and child bonding leave under the terms of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

While Lorena was out, a part-timer who had been hired to cover for her discovered that some of Lorena’s work was incomplete. The company told Lorena to delay her return by a week, but she showed up anyway and got into an argument with her temporary replacement. The company decided to terminate Lorena for alleged poor performance discovered both before and during her leave.

On her first day back, Lorena put in about three hours of work before being fired. She sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination under FEHA.

Her employer argued it fired her for poor performance and insubordination—showing up at work before her scheduled return and arguing with her temporary replacement. It also argued that Lorena had to prove her pregnancy was the only reason she was fired.

The court disagreed. It said her pregnancy only needed to be a motivating factor in the termination decision. The jury considering the case concluded that her pregnancy was a motivating factor and awarded her $10,000.   

The judge added another $51,000 in attorneys’ fees. The employer appealed.

The Court of Appeal of California refused to change the result. It concluded that pregnancy need only be a motivating factor for Lorena to win. (Alamo v. Practice Management Information Corporation, No. B230909, California Court of Appeal, 2012)

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