A recent lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, alleges that a Chicago principal set on a campaign to terminate any teachers that became pregnant. The lawsuit specifically alleges violations of both Title VII (sex discrimination) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The U.S. Department of Justice represents three former teachers who claimed they were targeted by their principal after disclosing their pregnancies. The type of circumstantial evidence alleged in this case, while not direct evidence of discrimination, is certainly compelling.
Repeated Terminations of Pregnant Teachers
The principal at the focus of this lawsuit was hired by the Chicago Board of Education in 2006 to work at an elementary school. From 2008 to 2012, the principal was charged with the duty of conducting annual performance reviews for teachers. Each of the three teachers in this case had consistently received excellent performance evaluations until after they disclosed their pregnancies to the principal.
For instance, one teacher gave notice of her pregnancy in November 2009, and the following February she was rated only satisfactory on her performance review, with no real basis for the lower rating. Then, in March 2010, the principal notified the teacher that she was being recommended for termination. The teacher was ultimately fired in May. The other two teachers had very similar experiences, also leading to their terminations.
Circumstantial Evidence of Discrimination
In all, there were at least five teachers who were allegedly targeted for termination after becoming pregnant or returning from work after having their babies. These terminations all occurred between 2009 and 2012. On the other hand, non-pregnant teachers who also received low performance ratings, and who had less tenure in some cases, were not terminated.
Sex Discrimination Claims Raised by the DOJ
The Department of Justice asserted two causes of action in this lawsuit. First, it claimed that the Chicago school board, through the actions of its principal, discriminated against these teachers on the basis of their "pregnancies, childbirths, or related medical conditions." Second, it alleged not only claims for wrongful termination, but also a "pattern or practice" of employment discrimination.
Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The statute also makes it unlawful to retaliate against an individual because they complain about such discrimination, file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and participate in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Title VII was later amended to specifically cover discrimination against women based on "pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth." This law also makes it unlawful to retaliate against someone for complaining about pregnancy discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination or participating in an investigation or lawsuit regarding employment discrimination.
If you have been the victim of discriminatory behavior, contact Wrady Michel & Kingtoday to set up a case evaluation with a Birmingham employment lawyer.