Articles Posted in Pregnancy Discrimination

If you’ve been punished — such as being fired, demoted, suspended, or some other adverse employment action — for complaining about discrimination, you know that your employer will almost certainly not own up to the true reason for your punishment, but will put forth some seemingly reasonable and legitimate explanation. Succeeding in a retaliation case, then, means exposing the stated reason for the pretext it was, and showing the true reason motivating your employer. An experienced New York employment retaliation lawyer can help at every step in accomplishing these goals.

As a recent pregnancy discrimination and retaliation case from here in New York City demonstrates, one of the best ways to bolster your case is to create questions about your employer’s credibility by exposing inconsistent or contradictory statements.

The employee, S.K., was a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who took a job with a medical center in New York City. In early 2012, the neuropsychologist became pregnant. She delivered her child in early October and began a twelve-week period of maternity leave. According to the doctor, she “had several conversations with colleagues and was told this was a ‘standard’ maternity leave.”

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In a Title VII discrimination case, a worker can succeed in multiple possible ways. One is to provide direct evidence of discrimination. For example, if your boss finds out on Monday that you’re pregnant and, on Tuesday, sends you an email that says, “I just found out that you’re pregnant. Best of luck on a healthy pregnancy. Also, we don’t want pregnant workers so you’re fired, effective immediately,” then that’s direct evidence. As most experienced New York employment discrimination lawyers can tell you, though, obtaining that degree of blatant “smoking gun” proof is hard to do and rare.

As a result, many workers must rely on another method, called an “inference of discrimination.” Say that you tell your supervisor on Monday about your pregnancy. On Thursday, you receive a letter from Human Resources that says, “upon further review, we no longer believe that you have the capacity to perform all of the essential functions of your job, so we are terminating your employment, effective immediately.” That’s a potential example of an “inference of discrimination” situation.

The pregnancy discrimination case of S.S., an employee for the U.S. Postal Service, was an example of an “inference of discrimination” scenario where the worker succeeded.

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Being pregnant can feel like an extremely vulnerable time. That may include feeling vulnerable with regard to your and your family’s financial security. Losing one’s job due while pregnant is a very real concern for many. Sometimes, those pregnant women are just the victims of bad luck. A lot of times, though, those women are the victims of something more nefarious, and that something is pregnancy discrimination. If that’s happened to you, a knowledgeable New York pregnancy discrimination lawyer can help you determine if you potentially have a winning case.

Here are two recent cases from the federal court system that provide some clear insight into what is — and what isn’t — a powerful case of pregnancy discrimination.

In the more recently resolved pregnancy discrimination matter, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a Long Island-based company that leased storage containers. That company had, in early April 2018, hired a woman who was 12 weeks pregnant at the time. The woman wasn’t “showing” yet and she did not divulge the pregnancy to her employer.

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When you’re a working woman who becomes pregnant, you face many challenges, even if yours is one of the “easiest” pregnancies possible. Those challenges only multiply if your pregnancy comes with complications. Complications may mean that you have special needs, such as requiring more time off from work than you (and perhaps your employer) had originally planned. When complications happen, the law has various protections. Not only can your employer not discriminate against you because of your pregnancy, but your employer also may not discriminate based on your pregnancy-induced disabilities. If your employer does either (or both) of these things, then you may have a legal case under state and/or federal law, so you should contact an experienced New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyer about your situation.

T.M. was one of those pregnant women allegedly harmed by workplace discrimination. She applied for a job as an EMS dispatcher. The employer hired her and scheduled a start date. However, five days before that start date, preeclampsia caused T.M.’s doctors to induce her into early labor and deliver her son prematurely.

Preeclampsia is a condition among pregnant women in which they develop hypertension (high blood pressure,) typically after 20 weeks of pregnancy, despite previously having normal blood pressure. It is a common pregnancy complication, occurring in 5-8% of all pregnancies, and occurring at even higher rates among certain communities of color, especially Black and Latina mothers.

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When you endure discrimination at work and decide to undertake legal action based on that discrimination, some things may happen and there are other things that you reasonably can expect will happen. Once you sue, you can plan on your employer trying to attack your claims in every way possible. When that happens, it pays to have a skilled New York City employment discrimination lawyer to get the evidence you need to shoot down those defense arguments.

A recent pregnancy discrimination case from Brooklyn shows what we mean. C.L. was a woman who, in 2012, had been working for a hospital in East Flatbush for six years as a “community access coordinator.” That December, she sought (and her employer approved) maternity leave. So far so good, right?

However, in 2013, the hospital assigned a new supervisor over C.L. That woman allegedly made “disparaging remarks” about C.L.’s pregnancy and maternity leave. On June 25, C.L.’s first day back from her 16-week maternity leave, the hospital fired her, asserting that her position had been eliminated.

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Pregnancy discrimination is an illegal form of employment discrimination. That has been true under federal, state, and city law for decades. Nevertheless, the insidious problem of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination against breastfeeding moms, remains. Whether you’ve suffered harm on the job because of your pregnancy or because of post-partum issues (like breastfeeding or expressing breast milk,) you are entitled to take legal action and potentially entitled to recover substantial compensation. There is, however, only a limited time to act under the law, so don’t delay. Reach out and retain a knowledgeable New York City pregnancy discrimination lawyer right away.

One of the forms of discrimination that happens to a lot of pregnant or breastfeeding working mothers is inappropriate jokes or comments at the workplace. Take, for example, A.Z., an account manager for a children’s clothing manufacturer. In 2018, the manager informed her supervisors that she was pregnant. After a brief maternity leave, A.Z. returned to work in the spring of 2019.

Once A.Z. was back in the office, the comments started, according to her complaint. One of the company’s owners allegedly asked the manager for some breast milk for his coffee, requesting that she “just squirt it in there.” The other owner allegedly would yell things like “pump station” and “pumper” as he passed A.Z.’s lactation accommodation area. The owners additionally opined that their office was “turning into a regular dairy farm” and that A.Z. could “put a milk company out of business,” according to the lawsuit.

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If you’re trying to work through your pregnancy, you’ve undoubtedly made a thoughtful decision that continuing to work is the best way to provide for your family. Being fired because of your pregnancy can inflict a great deal of stress, frustration, and financial insecurity on you during what is an already highly stressful (albeit exciting) time in your life. While employers have considerable discretion in who they hire and fire, they cannot fire you just because you’re pregnant. If that’s happened to you, you may have the makings of a successful New York pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.

So, what exactly does pregnancy discrimination in New York look like? Here’s a real-life example from upstate. The worker, A.G., was “visibly pregnant” when she interviewed for a waitress job with a Mexican restaurant. The manager who interviewed her knew she was pregnant and the restaurant owner, A.R., also knew she was pregnant.

The restaurant hired the woman and she typically worked around 17 hours per week. However, just a few weeks into the job, the waitress came down with bronchitis and missed five days of work. When she returned to work, the owner had assigned someone else to her shift.

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New York City’s employment discrimination laws cover a wider range of protected categories than most similar laws around the country. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) cover some gaps left in federal law, which protects against discrimination on the basis of a relatively small list of factors. A decision by a Manhattan federal judge in late 2020, for example, dismissed pregnancy discrimination claims under federal, state, and city law by a father who lost his job after taking paternity leave. It essentially held that he could not bring a claim for pregnancy discrimination because he was never pregnant. The court’s decision does not mention the NYCHRL’s provisions regarding caregiver discrimination, which could cover a father of a newborn.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include pregnancy discrimination in the definition of sex discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). In addition to pregnancy itself, Title VII prohibits discrimination due to childbirth and medical conditions related to either pregnancy or childbirth. The NYCHRL goes a step farther and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees.

Federal law acknowledges the role of fathers, or any parent who did not gestate and give birth to a child, in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires covered employers to provide unpaid leave to qualifying employees for certain reasons, including caring for a newborn child. The U.S. Supreme Court noted that the statute addresses “mutually reinforcing stereotypes [that] created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination” on the basis of sex. Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 736 (2003). Employers must provide leave regardless of gender, ensuring “that employers could not evade leave obligations simply by hiring men.” Id. at 737. The FMLA does not, however, address discrimination outside of the context of unpaid family leave.

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New York City pregnancy discrimination laws offer some of the most extensive protections to workers in the whole country. Federal law classifies discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as a form of sex discrimination. State and city law goes further, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and employees with newborn children. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) goes further still, requiring employers to provide private, sterile lactation rooms where workers can express breast milk, along with facilities for storing milk while at work. A class action filed in a Brooklyn federal court alleges that the police department failed to provide lactation facilities for employees as required by law. The lawsuit was filed more than a year ago and is in the process of seeking class certification.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions in its definition of sex discrimination. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. It also states that an employer commits an unlawful discriminatory practice when they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s pregnancy-related conditions.

A law passed by the New York City Council several years ago added provisions to the NYCHRL regarding accommodations for new parents who are nursing. Employers must provide a “lactation room,” defined as “a sanitary place, other than a restroom,” that is “shielded from view and free from intrusion.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. The room must include a power outlet, a place to sit, and a surface to place a pump and other items. It must be located near a sink or water fountain, and “in reasonable proximity to [an] employee’s work area.” Id. at § 8-107(22)(b)(i).

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Employment laws all over the country protect workers from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions that may arise during pregnancy or after giving birth. New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys can also use state and city law to demand reasonable accommodations for workers who might need extra restroom breaks, more time to sit down, restrictions on lifting large amounts of weight, and other needs. A 2014 law passed by the New York City Council added provisions regarding reasonable accommodations to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Unfortunately, many employers continue to deny such accommodations to their employees, sometimes with tragic consequences. A female employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) sued her employer in 2020, alleging that the refusal to provide reasonable accommodations resulted in her miscarriage. The lawsuit is still pending, but the MTA has reportedly agreed to several new accommodations for pregnant workers.

At the state level, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits employment discrimination based on “familial status,” which includes pregnancy. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(26)(a), 296(1)(a). The NYCHRL addresses discrimination by employers because of employees’ “sexual and reproductive health decisions,” which may include the decision to have children. N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-102, 8-107(1)(a).

Both city and state law require reasonable accommodations during an employee’s pregnancy and after they give birth. The NYSHRL requires accommodations for “pregnancy-related conditions,” which refers to both conditions “that inhibit[] the exercise of a normal bodily function” and that are generally accepted to be part of pregnancy or childbirth. N.Y. Exec L. §§ 292(21-f), 296(3). The NYCHRL requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations “that will allow the employee to perform the essential requisites of the job.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(22)(a).

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