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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Are Women Protected Against Pregnancy Discrimination While On Maternity Leave?

pregnant businesswoman sitting at office

Having litigated employment discrimination lawsuits for more than twenty years, our Sumter County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers have learned that a common employment law myth is that only women who are pregnant are protected against pregnancy discrimination under the federal anti-discrimination laws. However, because the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects women from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, the PDA’s protection against pregnancy discrimination extends beyond the time period during which an employee is pregnant. In Helmes v. S. Colonie Cent. Sch. Dist., 564 F.Supp.2d 137 (N.D. N.Y. 2008), the court explained that “women who are pregnant at or very near the time of the adverse employment action” are protected against pregnancy discrimination, “as are women who are on maternity leave or recently have returned from maternity leave when the adverse employment action occurs.” In this article, our Wildwood, Florida employment discrimination attorneys explain how the decision in Shafrir v. Ass’n of Reform Zionists of Am.,998 F.Supp. 355 (S.D. N.Y. 1998) illustrates that women are protected from pregnancy discrimination while they are on maternity leave.

Employee Alleges Pregnancy Discrimination

In that case, Lori Shafrir (Shafrir) brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Association of Reform Zionists of America (AZRA), pursuant to the PDA. Shafrir alleges that AZRA violated the PDA by firing her on the basis of her pregnancy.

In May 1993, Shafrir began working for AZRA as an Assistant Director. In June 1994, Shafrir notified AZRA that she was pregnant and expected to deliver in January 1994. In October or November 1994, Shafrir discussed her maternity leave with AZRA’s Executive Director, a man named Hirsch. According to Shafrir, Hirsch agreed that she could return to work from maternity leave on May 1, 1995.

Fired While On Maternity Leave

Shafrir claims that before her maternity leave began, Hirsch made numerous comments reflecting sex-based and pregnancy-based discriminatory animus. Shafrir testified that Hirsch remarked “everyone is always pregnant” and “how come we can’t have a man around here for a change?” On another occasion, according to Shafrir, Hirsch stated that a “woman doesn’t need the entire six weeks of maternity leave . . . [and] she shouldn’t take it.” Later, Hirsch allegedly asked Shafrir, “what is it with you—there’s either miscarriages, D & C’s, or pregnancies.”

Shafrir gave birth n January 7, 1995 and her maternity leave commenced on January 9, 1995. Shafrir contends that Hirsch immediately started pestering her to return to work by repeatedly asking what her plans were and when she would come back to work. While she was on maternity leave, Hirsch ordered Shafrir to come back to work on April 3, 1995, disavowing any agreement that her return date from maternity leave was May 1, 1995. Shafrir did not return to work on April 3, 1995 as ordered and she was fired on April 10, 1995. Shafrir was replaced by a woman who was neither pregnant nor a mother.

Women On Maternity Leave Protected

AZRA filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Shafrir’s pregnancy discrimination claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, AZRA maintained that Shafrir was not protected against pregnancy discrimination by the PDA because she was not pregnant when her employment was terminated. In rejecting this argument and denying AZRA’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that because Shafrir was on maternity leave when the termination occurred, she was still protected from pregnancy discrimination by the PDA.

In further support of its motion for dismissal, AZRA argued that the evidence established that Shafrir was terminated because she refused to return to work on April 3, 1995 as instructed by Hirsch and not on the basis of her pregnancy. In rejecting this argument, the trial court found that Shafrir had come forward with sufficient evidence to establish that her pregnancy was the real reason for her termination. This evidence, the trial court determined, included the termination of Shafrir while she was on maternity leave, Hirsch’s sex-based and pregnancy-based derogatory remarks, and AZRA’s replacement of Shafrir with a woman who was not pregnant. From this evidence, the trial court concluded, a reasonable jury could find that Shafrir was terminated on the basis of her pregnancy in violation of the PDA.

Consult With Wildwood, FL Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Sumter County, Florida employment discrimination attorneys have been fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims for more than two decades. If you have been fired while on maternity leave or have questions about your protection against pregnancy discrimination under the federal EEO laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Wildwood, Florida employment discrimination lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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