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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 From Pregnancy Discrimination When They Return From Maternity Leave?

pregnant businesswoman leads boardroom meeting.

Having represented employment discrimination victims for more than two decades, our Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers have learned that a common employment law myth is that women must be pregnant in order to be protected against pregnancy discrimination under the federal employment laws. However, as observed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Helmes v. S. Colonie Cent. Sch. Dist., 564 F.Supp.2d 137 (N.D. N.Y. 2008), “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 Gainesville, Florida employment discrimination attorneys explain how the decision in Gerdin v. CEVA Freight, LLC, 908 F.Supp.2d 821 (S.D. Tex. 2012) illustrates that women are protected from pregnancy discrimination when they return to work after taking maternity leave.

Employee Claims Pregnancy Discrimination

In that case, Katie Gerdin (Gerdin) brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, CEVA Freight, LLC (CEVA), pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Gerdin claims that CEVA violated the PDA by terminating her employment because of her pregnancy.

In September 2008, Gerdin was hired by CEVA as an administrative assistant. In the summer of 2009, Gerdin informed CEVA that she was pregnant. In October 2009, Gerdin began training another employee named Rodriguez to perform her duties so that Rodriguez could perform those duties while Gerdin was on maternity leave. On March 15, 2010, Gerdin took maternity leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). On May 24, 2010, Gerdin returned to work from maternity leave. Upon her return, Gerdin’s job title remained the same, but she contends that her job duties changed, and the only job duty returned to her was performing telephone invoicing. On June 9, 2010, less than three weeks after she returned from maternity leave, CEVA fired Gerdin. When terminating her employment, CEVA told Gerdin that her position had been eliminated as part of a reduction-in-force.

Fired After Returning From Maternity Leave

During the litigation, Gerdin testified that she was subjected to derogatory pregnancy-related remarks by her supervisor, a man named Livingston, both before and after her maternity leave. Gerdin testified that prior to her maternity leave, Livingston expressed displeasure with her having to take time off work to go to her parental doctor appointments, and questioned her as to how long her appointments would take, and whether they could be made at different times. Gerdin further testified that when she returned from maternity leave, Livingston said to her: “I hope that having kids is not going to interfere with your ability to work full-time,” and suggested to her that a part-time job might be better for her.

Employees Returning From Maternity Leave Protected

CEVA filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Gerdin’s pregnancy discrimination claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, CEVA argued that Gerdin was not protected from pregnancy discrimination by the PDA because she was not pregnant when she was fired. In rejecting this argument and denying CEVA’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that because Gerdin had just recently returned from maternity leave when the termination occurred, she was still protected from pregnancy discrimination by the PDA.

In further support of its motion for dismissal, CEVA argued that the evidence established that Gerdin was fired because her position was eliminated as part of a reduction-in-force and not because of her pregnancy. In rejecting this argument and denying CEVA’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that Gerdin had presented sufficient evidence to establish that CEVA’s proffered reason for her termination was a pretext for pregnancy discrimination. This evidence, the trial court determined, included the fact that Gerdin was fired three weeks after she returned from maternity leave, her duties as an administrative assistant were assumed by Rodriguez while she was on maternity leave and after her maternity leave, and the negative comments by her supervisor Livingston both before and after her maternity leave. From this evidence, the trial court concluded, a reasonable jury could find that Gerdin was fired because of her pregnancy in violation of the PDA.

Consult With Gainesville, FL Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination attorneys have been fighting for employees’ rights for more than twenty years. If you have been discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy or have questions about your rights as a pregnant employee under the federal employment laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Gainesville, 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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