Job Applicant Wins $100,000 After Offer Rescinded Due to Pregnancy

Pregnancy Discrimination
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Imagine going through the job search process. You send out dozens, if not hundreds, of applications and resumes to prospective employers. When you finally get a response, you’re rewarded with several grueling rounds of telephone and in-person interviews. Finally, you get the prize: the elusive job offer.

But before you formally accept, you inquire about the employer’s maternity leave policy and explain that you’re pregnant. Instead of getting an answer, your offer is revoked. The employer makes it clear that you are no longer being considered for the job because you are pregnant.

Is what just happened legal? Not likely, at least if the employer is subject to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). This very situation happened recently in the case Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Brown & Brown of Florida, Inc., where the employer settled with a then-pregnant prospective employee for $100,000.

Factual Background of the Case

Nicole Purcell, while looking for a new job, applied for a position at Brown & Brown of Florida, Inc., an insurance broker. After a series of interviews, Brown & Brown offered her the position.

Ms. Purcell gave her current employer two weeks’ notice, accepted the offer unofficially, and asked about Brown & Brown’s maternity leave policy. The company’s employee services coordinator said she’d have to get back to Ms. Purcell but that things “didn’t turn out well” for the previous employee who became pregnant.

About an hour later, the department head rescinded Ms. Purcell’s job offer, explaining that Brown & Brown needed someone who could take on the position immediately and for the long term. At no time did Ms. Purcell request extended leave. However, the department head said she appreciated Ms. Purcell telling Brown & Brown of her pregnancy so that the company wouldn’t be inconvenienced by her maternity leave.

Ms. Purcell filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming pregnancy discrimination. The EEOC eventually filed suit on Ms. Purcell’s behalf on the basis that Brown & Brown discriminated against her because she was pregnant. The case soon settled for $100,000.

What could Brown & Brown have done differently to avoid this result? Let’s examine the PDA to find out.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees and job applicants on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. As a general rule, an employer is subject to the PDA’s mandates if it has 15 or more employees.

The PDA does not require that employers act “pregnancy blind” when making employment decisions. In other words, the PDA does not require that an employer treat its pregnant employees exactly the same as all other employees. If the employer has a good nondiscriminatory reason for treating pregnant employees differently, the employer may be found not to have violated the PDA.

For example, if an employer allows a temporarily disabled nonpregnant employee to take time away from work to deal with a medical condition, the employer will have to allow the same accommodation for a pregnant employee if she requests time off. Only when the employer has a good nondiscriminatory reason for treating the pregnant employee differently will it be able to successfully argue that it’s not violating the PDA.

Despite the PDA’s allowances for employers treating pregnant employees differently in limited circumstances, there’s one thing employers can never do: assume that an employee will be unable to accomplish her job duties solely because of her pregnancy.

Brown & Brown’s Unlawful Behavior

That was the significant mistake that Brown & Brown made. It assumed that Ms. Purcell would be unable to complete her job duties as a result of her pregnancy. There was clear evidence of this, as the company assumed she would need an extended leave of absence even though she never requested one.

This assumption was fatal to Brown & Brown’s position that it did not discriminate against Ms. Purcell. Had Brown & Brown handled the situation differently, it might have been able to legally revoke Ms. Purcell’s job offer.

For instance, if working long hours without any extended absence from work was a major job requirement for the position, Brown & Brown might have been able to argue that Ms. Purcell’s offer was revoked because she couldn’t meet the major job requirements.

Brown & Brown also would have helped its case if it could show that Ms. Purcell required an accommodation that it didn’t provide to other similarly situated nonpregnant employees or that would have been an undue burden. Unfortunately for Brown & Brown, it couldn’t make this argument. Why? Because it revoked Ms. Purcell’s offer before she even had the chance to ask for an accommodation (if in fact she needed one).

Brown & Brown likely could have avoided all of this if it simply had a conversation with Ms. Purcell about her pregnancy and what sort of accommodations, if any, she intended to request. Instead, Brown & Brown made a categorical assumption about Ms. Purcell as a result of her pregnancy, in violation of the PDA.

For more information about the PDA, check out the EEOC’s Pregnancy Discrimination and Fact Sheet for Small Businesses: Pregnancy Discrimination pages.

Summing It Up

  • The PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
  • The PDA does not require that an employer always treat pregnant employees the same way it treats all other employees. Instead, the PDA requires that an employer treat its pregnant employees the same way it treats nonpregnant employees who are similarly situated with respect to their ability or inability to do their jobs.
  • The PDA allows employers to treat pregnant employees differently in limited situations when it can show a nondiscriminatory reason for the difference in treatment.
  • Employers must never assume that an employee will be unable to complete her primary job duties just because she is pregnant.

Have you had a job offer rescinded when your prospective employer learned you were pregnant? Please contact our office to learn more about your rights and the legal options you might have.