Avon workers allege bias against pregnant women, nursing moms
- Two former Avon employees have sued the company, alleging it discriminated against pregnant women and nursing mothers (Ruiz v. New Avon, LLC, No. 1:18-cv-09033 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 13, 2018)).
- Plaintiff Caroline Ruiz, a former executive, claimed she received fabricated negative performance ratings one day after she informed Avon of her pregnancy, less than one month after starting her job there. According to the complaint, her supervisor told her to prioritize her job over her health, even though Ruiz's pregnancy was deemed high risk: "Your health isn't my concern, but your performance is," she said she was told. Olivera Krstanoska, a microbiologist for Avon, said she experienced discrimination throughout her two pregnancies and said that after coming back to Avon after maternity leave when her first child was born, she returned to find she no longer had her own workstation, workbench or equipment. After her second child was born, Krstanoska needed to pump breast milk throughout the day and her co-workers openly mocked her about it, according to the complaint. One of her colleagues asked her if she needed to pump to have "milk for her cereal," Krstanoska alleged. Despite her complaints to HR, Avon did nothing to correct her colleagues' actions, she said.
- The company denied it discriminated against the claimants, reported MarketWatch. Without addressing specifics in the case, an Avon spokeswoman said: "We are very proud of our reputation as 'the company for women' and our strong and ongoing commitment to empowering women since our founding over 130 years ago." She noted that two-thirds of the company’s ranks were female.
While it remains to be seen how the Avon case will play out, HR must remember to take all complaints seriously, experts say. And when such complaints rise to the level of discrimination or illegal harassment, it's up to HR to conduct a good-faith investigation. Training managers to respond appropriately to requests for accommodation is often a first key step.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amendment and other laws prohibit pregnancy discrimination. The PDA requires that employers treat pregnant women as they would all other workers. The Americans with Disabilities Act also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees who experience complications. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to allow nursing mothers to take reasonable break times up to a year after after a child's birth. Employers must also provide a private space where mothers can express breast milk, and it can't be a bathroom.