Retail Worker Files Pregnancy Discrimination Class Action Lawsuit, Claiming Employer Forced Her to Take Unpaid Maternity Leave

Pier_1_Imports_sign_-_Hillsboro,_Oregon_2013.jpgA putative class action lawsuit alleges that a retail store forced an employee to take unpaid maternity leave rather than make accommodations for her pregnancy. Caselman v. Pier 1 Imports, Inc., No. 1-14-CV-263883, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct. – Santa Clara Co., Apr. 16, 2014). The plaintiff asserts a cause of action under California law for failing to reasonably accommodate pregnancy-related conditions. Some, but not all, state anti-discrimination statutes require reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Federal law does not include an explicit requirement. A recently-passed law in New York City adds reasonable pregnancy-related accommodations to the city’s anti-discrimination law.

The plaintiff has worked as a sales associate at a Pier 1 Imports store in San Jose, California since 2011. She states in her complaint that her doctor informed her in November 2013, during her second pregnancy, that she should avoid climbing ladders and lifting heavy objects. She notified the store manager and provided a statement from the doctor. She alleges that the store’s policy is to put pregnant employees with work restrictions on light duty for a maximum of eight weeks, and to require them to take unpaid leave after that if they cannot return to their regular work duties. In late November, the store put her on light duty.

During her eight-week light-duty period, the plaintiff claims that she performed her job duties without incident. She contacted the company’s human resources department to ask about alternatives to unpaid leave, but was told that this was company policy. The eight-week period ended on January 16, 2014, and the company placed her on unpaid leave the following day. She was informed that she had four months of leave, the maximum required by the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL). This would require her to return to work on May 20, 2014, when she anticipates still being pregnant.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges in part that the company’s unpaid leave policy violates California’s anti-discrimination law, which considers it unlawful discrimination for an employer to refuse reasonable accommodations requested by a pregnant employee acting on a doctor’s advice. CA Gov’t Code § 12945(a)(3)(A). She states that she is worried that, if she is unable to return to work on May 20, then the company will either keep her on unpaid leave without the protections against termination offered by the PDL, or terminate her employment. She is asserting claims on behalf of a class of current, former, and future Pier 1 employees. She is seeking a declaratory judgment that Pier 1 is in violation of state law, injunctions against further violations, lost wages, compensatory damages, restitution, and punitive damages.

The New York City Human Rights Law, much like California’s statute, requires reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees in § 8-107(22) of the city’s Administrative Code. Many state anti-discrimination statutes do not include this requirement. The New York State Human Rights Law, for example, only prohibits employers from compelling pregnant employees to take a leave of absence if they are otherwise able to perform their job duties. NY Exec. L. § 296(g). Federal law prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a), but it remains unsettled whether any federal statute requires reasonable pregnancy-related accommodations.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced pregnancy discrimination and other unlawful employment practices. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Holds that Inefficient Accommodations, Impolite Supervisors Do Not Necessarily Support a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 19, 2014
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
Photo credit: By Steve Morgan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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