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.
These allegations formed a critical component of A.Z.’s federal (Title VII) pregnancy discrimination claim, which she filed in 2020. Under a federal pregnancy discrimination action, you have to have alleged facts to support four essential pieces. They include (1) that you were a member of a protected class, (2) that you were qualified for the job you held, (3) that you suffered an suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that your employer was “motivated by discriminatory intent.”
In A.Z.’s case, criteria numbers 1 and 2 were undisputed. The manager also had adequate allegations of multiple adverse employment actions, including wrongful denial of commission payments and wrongful termination.
One potential problem that A.Z. encountered was that some of the alleged harassment occurred too far into the past to be actionable. The law says that you have 300 days to take action, and anything occurring more than 300 days before that filing date cannot be the basis of your claim.
What A.Z.’s legal team correctly recognized was that, even if an event was too old to be a basis in and of itself, it could still be part of the case. A.Z. did not argue “that the temporally distant comments are discrete acts of discrimination; rather, [she was] arguing that the comments serve as ‘background evidence in support of a timely claim.’” Basically, the comments were not claims in and of themselves, they were proof of the discriminatory intent that motivated the adverse actions that were timely – namely, the unpaid commissions and the firing.
‘Obviously Offensive’ Comments from Company Owners Were More Than ‘Stray Remarks’
Additionally, the court decided that these comments were more than just “stray remarks.” That’s very important because, generally speaking, stray remarks are not proof of discrimination.
When it comes time for a court to decide whether or not something was a stray remark, the judge will look at four things. One, they’ll look at who made the remark. Was it a low-level colleague, a supervisor, or someone in even higher authority? Two, they’ll look at when the remark was made “in relation to the employment decision at issue.” Three, they’ll consider exactly what was said. In other words, was the remark something a reasonable juror could see as discriminatory? Finally, they’ll take into account “the context in which the remark was made (i.e., whether it was related to the decision-making process.)”
In A.Z.’s case, the remarks were made the company’s owners, were reasonably close in time to the adverse employment actions A.Z. alleged, and were things that “a reasonable juror would view… as exceedingly juvenile, obviously offensive, and evidence of discriminatory intent.” All of that weighed in favor of finding the comments to be something much more than just benign “stray remarks.”
Your decision to grow your family while continuing to pursue your career is not something that should subject you to harassment at work but, too often, it does. If that’s you, don’t assume that you have to “just tolerate it” and don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to the diligent and experienced New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form. Our employment lawyers have been proudly serving pregnant workers and lactating working moms in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as Long Island and Westchester County, and we’re ready to go to work for you.