Jury Awards $550,000 in Damages in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Federal, state, and city laws in New York City protect workers from discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth. This not only includes firing an employee because they become pregnant, or refusing to hire a pregnant job applicant for that reason, but also includes disparate treatment affecting one or more pregnant employees. A jury recently ruled in favor of a plaintiff claiming pregnancy discrimination largely due to disparate treatment. Garcia Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-00297, complaint (D.D.C., Feb. 24, 2014). The jury awarded her compensatory and punitive damages totaling $550,000.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 amended Title VII to make pregnancy discrimination—defined to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions”—a type of unlawful sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a).

The PDA’s protections apply to adverse actions based on a protected category and to acts that “limit, segregate, or classify” those employees in a way that negatively affects their employment or employment opportunities. Id. at § 2000e-2(a)(2). This includes a situation in which an employer takes actions that interfere with a pregnant employee’s ability to do their job effectively. This was the scenario alleged by the plaintiff in Garcia Hernandez.

According to her complaint, the plaintiff began working for the defendant, which operates a nationwide chain of restaurants, in May 2011, working in various positions involving food preparation. She alleged that her supervisor never took issue with her work performance before she informed him of her pregnancy in November 2011. After that, she stated that he required her, prior to taking a restroom break, to announce it to all of her co-workers and get his permission.

At times when the plaintiff urgently needed to use the restroom, she stated that the supervisor sometimes delayed responding to her request “for five minutes or more, which caused [her] to suffer pain.” Garcia Hernandez, complaint at 4. She alleged that the supervisor would often berate her in the presence of customers and other employees about the length of time she spent in the restroom. The supervisor also allegedly denied her scheduled breaks, when she needed to eat, and refused to provide her access to drinking water. Employees who were not pregnant were not subject to any of these requirements or treatment. The plaintiff stated that she complained about the disparate treatment to the supervisor, but he disregarded her complaints.

While the supervisor had allowed flexibility before the plaintiff’s pregnancy, such as with regard to leaving a shift early when needed, she claimed that this abruptly ended when she informed him of the pregnancy. In January 2012, she requested permission to leave early for a prenatal doctor’s appointment. The supervisor did not respond until a few hours before the appointment. When the plaintiff went to the appointment anyway, out of medical necessity, the supervisor fired her.

The plaintiff filed suit for pregnancy discrimination under Title VII and the PDA. On August 4, 2016, a jury found in her favor on the Title VII claim. It awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Phillips & Associates’ pregnancy discrimination lawyers advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job applicants who have experienced pregnancy discrimination and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

New York Legislature Considers Paid Family Leave Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 13, 2016

New Laws Addressing Sexual Harassment, Pregnancy Discrimination, and Other Employment Issues Take Effect in New York, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 11, 2016

Former Hospital Employee’s Lawsuit Demonstrates the Short Distance Between Sexual Harassment and Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 24, 2015

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