Employers, the EEOC Is Watching How You Treat Pregnant Employees And Applicants

This is not news. Or at least it should not be.

And yet.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC“), the federal agency that enforces the federal anti-discrimination laws, announced that it settled a claim with a Louisiana restaurant that admitted it violated federal law when a restaurant manager fired and then later refused to rehire a worker because she was pregnant.

What Are The Facts?

Here’s what happened, as admitted by the employer, Bourne’s House, LLC, dba Bourne’s House Restaurant in Franklinton, Louisiana, in the consent decree:

In April 2019, a manager at the Louisiana restaurant fired a new employee after sending her a social media message saying, “I’m not gonna be able to hire you. I didn’t realize that you were expecting a baby.” When the worker reapplied for another position, Bourne’s House wrote “pregnant” on her application and did not rehire her.

This is low-hanging fruit, y’all.

Why?

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Federal Law Prohibits Discrimination Based on Pregnancy

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy. Pregnancy discrimination is a type of sex discrimination.

The EEOC posts a plethora of information about pregnancy discrimination, key among them for this restaurant employer:

An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job.  An employer cannot refuse to hire her because of its prejudices against pregnant workers or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers.  The PDA also forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any other aspect of employment, including pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, firing, and any other term or condition of employment.

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/fact-sheet-pregnancy-discrimination

A reminder that this is true even if the employer believes it is acting in the employee’s best interest.

(That’s benevolent sexism, but still sex discrimination.)

While I don’t know if the Bourne’s manager was trying to act in the employee’s best interest or not, now Bourne’s will not only pay the former employee $30,000 in damages, but also conduct training, revise policies, provide regular reports to the EEOC, and post a notice that affirms its obligations under Title VII.

“Employers, whether a local restaurant or large corporation, cannot take away a person’s opportunity to earn a living because she is pregnant,” said one of the trial attorneys in the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office. “A pregnant employee has an obvious need to earn a living not only for herself, but also for her expected baby.”

Employer Takeaways

Train managers to treat pregnant workers the same as non-pregnant applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work, providing reasonable accommodations if and as needed.

As I noted last month in this previous post, the EEOC is actively focused on employers that discriminate against pregnant employees, making pregnancy discrimination high on its list of enforcement priorities.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.