You can’t be serious,” said Supervisor Margie Brunton. “Miles is a man. How can he possibly be suing us for pregnancy discrimination?”
“That’s the exact reaction I had when I heard about his lawsuit,” replied HR Manager Alan Frankel. “Miles is claiming that he was discriminated against because his wife was pregnant.”
“Oh, brother,” said Margie. “What alleged discrimination did Miles suffer?”
“Miles claims that he was fired right after he returned from two weeks of paternity leave,” said Alan. “He suggests that the timing was suspicious and somehow related to his wife’s pregnancy. He also points out that we never provided him with a reason for his dismissal.”
“There wasn’t just one reason that we let him go,” said Margie. “Besides, I don’t understand how a man can claim pregnancy bias.”
“Miles is alleging so-called associational discrimination,” said Alan. “He says he was discriminated against because of his association with a pregnant person. In addition, he claims that a bunch of his coworkers mocked him for having a child. One colleague told him that he shouldn’t have a kid. At least two other crew members expressed that same sentiment. Worse, one coworker doused Miles with baby powder as a joke.”
“His coworkers behaved inappropriately,” said Margie, “but none of them were involved in the decision to let him go.”
“Miles alleges the we ignored his multiple complaints about the bad behavior,” said Alan.
“He was a man claiming pregnancy bias!” said Margie. “We should fight this lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. The court tossed out the lawsuit. The judged decided that the male worker couldn’t sue for pregnancy discrimination.
The court acknowledged that certain discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allow workers to sue for associational discrimination. But neither the Pregnancy Discrimination Act nor gender bias laws protect against associational bias.
Even though the worker was terminated shortly after returning from paternity leave, he still wasn’t a protected individual under the relevant laws, so his lawsuit wasn’t supportable.
While it wasn’t a good idea to provide the man with no reason for his termination, it ultimately didn’t matter because he wasn’t considered a protected individual.
What it means: Men can’t sue for pregnancy bias
While you’re probably not surprised to learn that men can’t prevail in lawsuits for pregnancy discrimination, it’s important to be aware that under certain circumstances, someone can pursue litigation for so-called associational bias. For instance, a worker who’s a caregiver for a disabled spouse can sue under the ADA.
Bonus: It’s never a good idea to fire someone without providing a reason for the dismissal. The man in this case might not have pursued the costly lawsuit if he’d been told why he was fired.
Based on Soeren v. Disney Streaming Service, d/b/a Bamtech.
(From the Nov. 6, 2020, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To download the current issue of the publication right now, please click here.)