Three Ex-Employees Share a $6.2 Million Verdict in Pregnancy Discrimination CasePregnancy Discrimination
A jury in a New York state court found the defendant, the three plaintiffs’ former employer, liable under state law for harassment and terminating their employment because of their pregnancies. The total damages award comes to nearly $6.2 million.
Three former administrative workers of G.E.B. Medical Management, Inc., Marlena Santana, Yasminda Davis, and Melissa Rodriguez, filed the lawsuit against the company and its owner, Bruce Paswall, in 2008. The verdict was announced on September 15 after a month-long trial. The three claimed that after their employer learned they were pregnant, Paswall harassed them and office manager Peter Ayende discriminated against and later fired them.
The jury awarded the plaintiffs the following:
- $1.5 million in compensatory damages to each plaintiff for pain and suffering,
- $1.5 million in punitive damages, and
- lost wages totaling about $180,000.
The complaint spells out how personal feelings played out in a Manhattan medical office, violating anti-discrimination laws.
- Paswall may have been motivated by the actions of a previous pregnant employee who quit without notice.
- After Santana told management about her pregnancy in 2006, the positive treatment she received ended and management became hostile.
- Santana claimed she was removed from front office tasks and her work become more demeaning, including filling water bottles, getting snacks and soda from a store, and spending 10 days redacting and changing medical records instead of shredding them.
- Santana’s work was cut in half after she became pregnant. A part-time worker was hired to perform the work she had been doing.
- The new employee, a woman who was not pregnant, was given preferential treatment.
- Santana was fired without a plausible explanation in the fall of 2006.
Violation of New York State Human Rights Law
An important note in this case is that the pregnant workers brought their claims under the New York Human Rights Act. A crucial distinction between this law and federal law is that there are no caps on the damages that juries can award.
Had this case been brought under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the emotional distress and punitive damages would have been capped at a total of $500,000—clearly far short of the $3 million awarded in this case.
Maryland and District of Columbia laws also prohibit negative employment actions based on pregnancy. These laws also do not have caps on damages like federal anti-discrimination law.
Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act
In 1978, the federal Title VII statute, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, and nationality, was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to include a prohibition against pregnancy-based discrimination.
The federal agency enforcing the law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), issued guidelines in 2014 (and updated them in 2015) stating that employers with at least 15 employees not only couldn’t take actions against a pregnant employee due to the pregnancy but also needed to accommodate her in certain circumstances.
- Lactation and breastfeeding are viewed by the EEOC as pregnancy-related medical conditions that need to be accommodated.
- Employers can’t force pregnant workers to take a leave from work if they’re still able to do the job.
- Parental policies must be the same for men and women. Parental leave is different than a medical leave that may be needed due to giving birth or recovering from childbirth.
- Employers need to provide accommodations for workers with pregnancy-related impairments, such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.
Summing It Up
It’s against federal and many state laws to discriminate against female employees because of pregnancy.
- This can happen through harassment, reduced wages, and termination of employment.
- If you become pregnant, keep notes and document any changes in employer behavior that shows a bias due to your pregnancy. This includes negative actions toward you and preferential treatment of nonpregnant employees. Include the names of witnesses.
- Document when you informed your employer of your pregnancy and to whom you gave that notice. Keep copies of any written notice of the pregnancy.
- E-mails or memos concerning your treatment should be saved.
- If you feel you’re being discriminated against and have evidence to document it, file an internal complaint of discrimination with management or human resources.
- If this fails to help you or your treatment worsens, contact our office.
If you have questions about pregnancy discrimination or concerns about your treatment at your workplace, contact our office so we can talk about your situation, applicable laws, and actions you can take to protect your rights and interests.