Supervisor’s take-home: Your efforts to make sure pregnant workers are treated fairly and are allowed to return to the job can go a long way toward defeating any claims of pregnancy discrimination.
What happened: A pregnant woman went on maternity leave and returned to her job without incident. About three years later, she again became pregnant. After learning of her second pregnancy, her supervisor sent an email to another manager stating that the pregnant woman was a cancer in the department and that she’d probably use her pregnancy as an excuse to goof off, so she should be on a short leash.
A few months later, the pregnant woman threw a notebook at a coworker in a fit of rage. She was placed on a performance improvement plan.
What people did: While the woman was still on the improvement plan, she was accused of making a pass at a male coworker. The man reported that the woman looked over his shoulder and said, “I hope you don’t mind if I put my t-tties on your back.” The company launched an investigation. A few days later, the woman was fired. She was replaced by a pregnant worker.
Legal challenge: The woman sued for pregnancy bias. She argued that her boss put her under the microscope and ultimately dismissed her because of her pregnancy.
The company insisted that the woman was discharged because of her negative interactions with other staffers, including the harassment of a male coworker.
Result: The company won. The court said that the woman was fired for her unacceptable behavior. She’d been pregnant once before and hadn’t been terminated. And the staffer was replaced by another pregnant worker.
The skinny: Companies that consistently treat pregnant employees fairly usually get a sympathetic ear in court.
Cite: Levins v. Criterion Supply, U.S. District Court, S.D. Texas, No. H-18-1275, 10/22/19.
(From the March 6, 2020 issues of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors)