You would think that, by now, employers would know better than to openly fire an employee because they are pregnant. However, there are those employers who simply believe what they are doing is not discriminatory, but instead, simply common sense. That was the case of an Arizona bar that recently fired its bartender because customers would not want to see her pregnant belly behind the bar.
The case of Michelle Viscusi
In this recent case filed by the EEOC, Michelle Viscusi was a bartender at the Moonshine Whisky Bar and Grill in Tempe, Arizona. She had been working there almost a year when she found out she was pregnant. She hesitated to tell her managers because she didn't think it would go well, and she was right.
Once her managers heard that she was pregnant, even before she began to show, she was told that having a pregnant woman working behind the bar would look bad for the company and she was terminated. The bartender filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
The company refused to cooperate in the investigation
As is routine with EEOC charges, the Agency tried to work with the company to resolve the complaint, but the former employer refused to cooperate, even refusing to respond to the charge. A hearing was held and a recording was introduced in which the company owners made the following statements:
Do you want to be showing your belly behind a bar? This is not being prejudiced against it; it's me looking at things how other people can see it. There's gonna be a whole number of people that I would be offending by allowing a pregnant person to be behind a bar. They might look at it as the owners are [expletive] idiots; they're letting a girl that's pregnant, that she could get injured behind the bar, bartend right now?
The judge understandably found the company's behavior to be "deplorable." The employer was ordered to pay more than $66,000, to resolve the charge.
How prevalent is pregnancy discrimination?
Even in the face of federal laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, many women are still subjected to discriminatory treatment because of pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. In fact, the EEOC reported that it received over 3,500 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2015. That number only reflects the cases where a formal complaint was actually made. Many women remain quiet because of fear of retaliation.
What you need to know about pregnancy discrimination
It's important to understand that pregnancy discrimination can occur in a variety of situations. The EEOC lists the following as common examples of violations of the anti-discrimination laws:
- refusing to hire, failing to promote, demoting, or firing pregnant workers after learning they are pregnant;
- discharging workers who take medical leave for pregnancy-related conditions;
- limiting employment opportunities for pregnant women, such as by placing them on involuntary leave, refusing to let them continue working beyond a certain point in the pregnancy, reducing work hours, or limiting work assignments due to employer safety concerns;
- requiring medical clearances not required of non-pregnant workers;
- failing to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions where similar accommodations are or would be provided to non-pregnant workers;
- refusing to allow lactating mothers to return to work; and
- retaliating against employees—or those close to pregnant employees—who complained about pregnancy discrimination.
If you feel you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.