Does Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination End After An Employee Gives Birth?
Having battled employers who engage in discriminatory employment practices for more than twenty years, our labor lawyers in Citrus County have learned that many employers mistakenly believe that protection against pregnancy discrimination ends once an employee gives birth. Based on this mistaken belief, our labor attorneys in Inverness, Florida have learned, employers often target women for termination once they return to the workplace after giving birth. In this article, our labor lawyers in Citrus County explain how the decision in Scheidt v. Floor Covering Associates, Inc., Case No. 16-cv-5999 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2018) illustrates that the protection against pregnancy discrimination does not end after an employee gives birth.
Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employers are forbidden from discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. In construing the broad scope of the PDA’s protection against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, courts have determined the PDA’s protection is not limited to the time during which an employee is pregnant. Instead, courts have ruled that the PDA protects employees from discrimination while they are pregnant, while they are on maternity leave, and shortly after they give birth or return from maternity leave.
The extent to which the PDA protects women from discrimination after they give birth or return from maternity leave depends on the facts of each case. In such cases, timing is the most critical factor. The shorter the elapse of time from when an employee returns to work after giving birth or the expiration of maternity leave until the employee is subjected to an adverse employment action, the more likely courts will find that the employee was still protected from discrimination by the PDA when the adverse employment action occurred. Conversely, the longer the elapse of time from an employee returns to work after giving birth or the expiration of maternity leave, the less likely courts will find that the employee was still protected from discrimination by the PDA when the adverse employment action occurred.
Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit
In Scheidt, a woman named Scheidt brought a pregnancy discrimination claim against her former employer, Floor Covering Associates, Inc. (FCA), pursuant to the PDA. Navarro claims that she was fired on the basis of pregnancy in violation of the PDA.
In February 2013, FCA hired Scheidt as an administrative assistant. Scheidt became pregnant sometime in 2013, and she informed a manager at FCA, Geskey, of her pregnancy sometime in November of that year. Scheidt maintains that she was treated differently by FCA—through Geskey—after becoming pregnant.
Scheidt claims that after she notified Geskey of her pregnancy, Geskey was no longer friendly toward her. Scheidt further claims that after she notified Geskey of her pregnancy, Geskey moved her to an office in which a vent from the bathroom released exhaust and fumes. Before becoming pregnant, Scheidt was allowed to stay late or work on weekends to make up the time she missed for medical appointments occurring during the company’s usual business hours. After January 2014, however, Scheidt’s medical appointments during the day would count as her lunch break. If Scheidt’s appointments took longer than the hour allowed for lunch, the missed time would cut against Scheidt’s working hours. Scheidt was no longer allowed to stay late or work on weekends to make up time.
On April 29, 2014, Scheidt requested leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Scheidt submitted a medical certification from her doctor certifying that Scheidt had a “serious health condition” that was pregnancy related. Scheidt requested leave beginning May 1, 204, and ending September 22, 2014. FCA’s request leave form set forth its FMLA leave policy, which states: “A family leave of absence cannot exceed 12 weeks in any 12-month period.” However, a human resources manager approved Scheidt’s request for leave form, which indicated that Scheidt would return to work on September 22, 2014.
Scheidt gave birth in July 2014. On July 30, 2014, FCA terminated Scheidt’s employment through a telephone call that lasted less than a minute. FCA claims that it terminated Scheidt on July 30, 2014, because she did not show up to work that day. Specifically, FCA claims that Scheidt was expected to return to work on July 30, 2014—which was twelve weeks and six days after Scheidt’s FMLA leave began—because that was when Scheidt’s twelve weeks of FMLA leave plus five days of remaining vacation expired. Scheidt testified that she did not know she had to return to work after being on leave for 12 weeks.
Timing Reflects Pregnancy Discrimination
FCA filed a motion with the trial court seeking the dismissal of Scheidt’s pregnancy discrimination claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, FCA maintained that the evidence established that Scheidt was fired for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason—she failed to return to work after her FMLA leave expired. The trial court denied FCA’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Scheidt had presented sufficient evidence “for a reasonable jury to find that she was terminated because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
In support of its ruling, the trial court pointed out that Scheidt “was terminated less than two weeks after having her child.” The “suspicious timing” between Scheidt’s return to work after giving birth and her termination, the trial court reasoned, “support[s] a finding of discriminatory animus.” The trial court also found that Scheidt presented “other evidence supporting a finding of discriminatory animus.” “For example,” the court explained, Scheidt testified that sometime after she notified [FCA] of her pregnancy she was moved to an office in which a vent from the bathroom released exhaust and fumes.” The trial court also noted that Scheidt “testified that prior to becoming pregnant, she was friendly with Geskey,” but that Geskey “was not at all friendly towards [her] after she became pregnant.” Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded that “a reasonable juror could find that [FCA’s] justification for terminating [Scheidt’s] employment was pretextual, particularly giving the timing of [Scheidt’s] termination.”
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Citrus County, Florida Labor Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our labor law attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you are a victim of employment discrimination or have questions about your rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our labor law lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. 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.