- A Florida-based software company discriminated against a saleswoman based on her pregnancy by moving her from a lucrative sales territory to one with "little to no existing clients," the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit announced July 1.
- The agency claimed that NICE Systems, Inc. violated federal nondiscrimination law when it stopped assigning a pregnant employee sales leads and denied her commission payments. When she complained, she allegedly was told to "stop being so emotional." When she returned from leave, she was reassigned a new sales territory with few existing clients for the product she was selling. EEOC said she was forced to resign when the company did nothing about her complaints.
- The agency is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief aimed at preventing future discriminatory practices.
"[D]iscrimination based on an employee's caregiving responsibilities may violate Title VII if it is based on sex," according to an EEOC enforcement guidance. "For instance, an employer would violate Title VII by denying job opportunities to women, but not to men with young children, or by reassigning a woman who has recently returned from maternity leave to less desirable work based on the assumption that, as a new mother, she will be less committed to her job."
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which is part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC views discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions as a prohibited form of sex discrimination. Pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition cannot be a motivating factor in an adverse employment action, EEOC says, which means that an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, demote or take any other adverse action because of her pregnancy.
Pregnancy bias often comes up with respect to pregnancy-related medical conditions or needed accommodations such as leave or light duty, both of which can actionable under the PDA if not properly handled.
While the federal PDA doesn't require accommodation, it does require that employers treat women affected by pregnancy or related medical conditions the same as non-pregnant applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Experts have said this means pregnant workers must be provided with access to an accommodation such as light duty in the same manner as other employees.
Employers have paid hefty fines to settle allegations that light duty was illegally withheld from pregnant women. Earlier this year, Raley's agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a class action lawsuit claiming that the grocer violated California law by refusing to accommodate pregnant workers even though it allowed temporarily disabled employees to go on light duty. Last year, Walmart agreed to pay $14 million to settle class action claims it denied pregnant workers light duty even though light duty was available to workers injured on the job. And UPS paid $2.25 million in September 2019 to settle similar claims.
To avoid discrimination claims, employment attorneys recommend HR train managers on applicable laws' requirements.