We are all protected from workplace discrimination even before we have actually become employees. As a job applicant, you have legal rights to be free from illegal discrimination during the hiring process, when that discrimination is based on a protected characteristic such as race, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, disability, or religion. Depending on the state or local laws that apply to you and your employer, there may be additional protected categories of individuals. Employers are required to comply with all anti-discrimination laws that apply to them, even during the hiring process, including advertising for open positions, interviewing and the final hiring decision.
Job Offer Revoked After Request for Maternity
Leave In a recent case, the owner of a dentist’s office was sued for discriminatory failure to hire after she revoked a job offer. The claim was that the offer was revoked immediately after the job applicant informed the owner that she was pregnant and would need 12 weeks of maternity leave at some point. According to the lawsuit, after the owner found out the applicant was expecting a child, she made this notation: “Pregnant?! Due 10/13!” She then immediately revoked the job offer she had previously made. The owner claims she revoked the job offer because of the need for a leave of absence, not because the applicant was pregnant. Isn’t that the same thing? This is what the court was called upon to answer.
Minnesota Court determines there was no discriminatory animus
In this case, the court struggled with the question of whether discriminatory “animus” or hostility is a required under the state’s Human Rights Act. Initially, the trial court judge ruled in favor of the employer. The judge reasoned that the job offered was revoked because the applicant failed to disclose her need for a 12-week leave, which would have created a difficult situation for the employer. However, on appeal, the appellate court reversed that decision, finding instead that the employer discriminated against the applicant “on the basis of her pregnancy in a purposeful, intentional, and overt manner.”
While some may question the nature of the required “animus,” discrimination is usually pretty clear. The argument that discrimination can somehow be “innocent” because there is no real hostility toward someone because of their protected characteristic (e.g., pregnant) is not compelling. We may be able to sympathize with small business owners who must rely on each and every employee being present at work, the need for maternity leave cannot be the basis for an adverse employment decision, regardless of the burden it may create. Businesses are still required to adhere to applicable anti-discrimination laws.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!