Appellate Court Holds that Inefficient Accommodations, Impolite Supervisors Do Not Necessarily Support a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

Lactation_room.jpgThe Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a woman’s pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, holding that she did not give the employer enough opportunity to remedy the situation. Ames v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., No. 12-3780, slip op. (8th Cir., Mar. 13, 2014). The court found that she did not demonstrate disparate treatment based on sex, pregnancy, or conditions related to pregnancy; nor did she show that the employer had actual intent to fire her. While the employer’s actions certainly seem insensitive to the plaintiff’s needs, they apparently do not rise to the level of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The plaintiff began working for the defendant as a loss-mitigation specialist in 2008. The court notes in its opinion that “timely completion of work” is a “high priority” for the position. Id. at 2. After taking eight weeks of maternity leave in mid-2009 without apparent incident, she learned that she was pregnant with her second child in October 2009. She experienced complications, and her doctor ordered bed rest in April 2010. The plaintiff alleges that both her immediate supervisor and her department head were dismissive of her health issues. She gave birth prematurely that May and went on maternity leave.

During maternity leave, the plaintiff spoke to a disability case manager about accommodations for expressing milk at work. The case manager told her she could use a lactation room, but allegedly did not tell her that this required an application with a three-days processing period. When she returned to work in July 2010, her son was breastfeeding every three hours. She was denied access to the lactation room because she had not completed the paperwork, and she claims that this was the first time she learned of that requirement. Her department head declined to help her find a place to lactate. The company nurse told her that she could use a wellness room to express milk, but would have to wait at least fifteen minutes until one became available.

While she was waiting, her immediate supervisor informed her that she had two weeks to catch up on all of the work she missed during maternity leave. She went back to the department head, “visibly upset and in tears,” id. at 4, and asked again for assistance. The department head allegedly told her to go home, and offered to help her write her own resignation letter. The plaintiff initiated a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shortly afterwards, and later filed suit.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed. In order to survive summary judgment, it stated, a plaintiff must show “direct evidence of discrimination” or an “inference of unlawful discrimination.” Id. at 5-6. She identified seven factors that she said “would have caused any reasonable person to resign,” id. at 6, including negative statements by her supervisors, lack of access to a lactation room, and the fact that she was “in considerable physical pain” at the time she resigned. Id. at 7. The court found that she had not produced direct or indirect evidence of discrimination. Accommodations were available for her, it held, but she did not follow the company’s procedures that are reportedly included on the company intranet and in other sources.

The pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced unlawful employment discrimination or retaliation. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

New York City Pregnancy Discrimination Ordinance Helps Woman Get Her Job Back, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 27, 2014
Government Contractor Settles EEOC’s Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint for $70,000, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 15, 2014
Lawsuit Brings Attention to Unlawful Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination in New York City and Throughout Nation, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 26, 2013
Photo credit: By lenarc (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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