Former University Employee Sues for Pregnancy Discrimination

Even universities are not immune from workplace discrimination based on issues of gender. A former financial aid worker at the University of Houston recently filed a federal lawsuit against the university, claiming that she suffered harassment and eventual termination when she informed her employer that she was pregnant. The law recognizes pregnancy discrimination as a form of both gender and disability discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with investigating complaints and enforcing anti-discrimination laws, reports that claims of pregnancy discrimination have increased by 47 percent in the past decade. What is not certain is whether this reflects an increase in the incidence of such discrimination or an increase in reporting by victims.

Najat Elsayed began working in the financial aid office at the University of Houston in October 2007. She enjoyed the job and claims that she performed well, according to positive reviews from supervisors. She also describes a culture of hostility towards pregnant employees. In March 2009, she told her supervisor that she was pregnant. According to Elsayed, “I sat down in my supervisor’s office and I told her that I was pregnant and then first words out of her mouth were ‘s—, s—, s—!'” She alleges that her employer continued to force her to work over 40 hours a week despite objections from her doctor. The university also allegedly refused to allow her to work from home, although they had allowed her to do so before her pregnancy announcement. This apparently included a refusal to allow her to work from home after her due date.

Elsayed went on maternity leave on December 15, 2009. She alleges that a supervisor began calling her almost immediately after the birth of her child to demand she return to work, suggesting that she would not advance further in her job if she did not cut her maternity leave short. Upon her return from leave in the spring of 2010, she reportedly faced hostility from management. She complained to her supervisors and to human resources, but says this only increased the hostility towards her. At this point, she alleges that co-workers also began to make disparaging remarks about Arabs and Muslims in her presence, and one co-worker swerved her car towards Elsayed in the parking lot as though to hit her. She says management dismissed her complaints. The university suspended her, and later terminated her on June 4, 2010.

Elsayed filed a complaint with the EEOC on June 16, 2010, alleging discrimination based on both sex and religion as well as retaliation for complaining about the discrimination. She received a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC, a prerequisite to a lawsuit, on July 18, 2011. The lawsuit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, demanding back pay and damages.

Employees in New York who face discrimination based on pregnancy have numerous resources to support them. While the EEOC investigates alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination laws, New York has its own anti-discrimination laws at both the state and city level. They are investigated respectively by the New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

The New York pregnancy discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates help safeguard the rights enshrined in anti-discrimination laws for both employees and job seekers. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact the firm today.

Web Resources:

Complaint (PDF), Najat Elsayed v. University of Houston, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division
More Blog Posts:

Nurse Claims Pregnancy Discrimination Over Job Duty Restrictions, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 16, 2011
Greenwich Salon Accused of Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 7, 2011
New Jersey Woman Alleges Pharmacy Fired Her Because of Pregnancy, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 1, 2011
Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

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