“How can Kathy sue us for unlawful pregnancy discrimination when she wasn’t even pregnant?” asked Supervisor Margie Brunton.
“That’s a good question,” replied HR Manager Alan Frankel. “Nevertheless, Kathy is suing us, claiming that we retaliated against her – and eventually fired her – because she expressed an intent to get pregnant.”
“Now I’ve heard everything,” replied Margie.
“When did we learn that Kathy was trying to have a baby?” asked Nathan.
“Right after she got married,” said Margie. “Kathy returned from her honeymoon and told her supervisor that she and her husband were trying to get pregnant.”
“That doesn’t seem all that unusual,” said Alan. “Newly married couples often express an interest in having children.”
“I agree,” said Margie. “However, Kathy’s boss was worried. When Kathy told him about her plans, he said he wasn’t too happy about it and wondered how her work would get done.”
“Any manager would be concerned about filling in for someone during maternity leave,” said Alan. “But Kathy never asked for a pregnancy accommodation. In fact, Kathy never did get pregnant while she worked for us.”
“Exactly,” said Margie. “After that conversation, though, Kathy felt her supervisor began to treat her differently.”
“When she complained about the allegedly poor treatment,” said Alan, “she was terminated.”
“Kathy can’t sue us for pregnancy bias if she wasn’t even pregnant,” said Margie. “We should challenge her lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
No. The company lost. The court refused to dismiss the lawsuit.
The judge pointed out that pregnancy discrimination laws not only protect women who are pregnant, but they also provide legal safeguards to female workers who are trying to become pregnant.
Because only women can have a child, discriminatory actions taken against those seeking to have a baby are illegal because they can never be gender-neutral; that is, only women can face bias related to childbearing, either a pregnancy that’s real or one that’s intended.
According to the court, the company ignored the woman’s complaints of retaliation after she announced her intent to have a child, then fired her. Because a man couldn’t have been retaliated against or terminated for that reason, the company’s actions constituted illegal bias.
What it means: Express joy at her happy news
Some supervisors might be surprised to learn that pregnancy discrimination laws apply to women attempting to have a child.
That’s why you have to proceed carefully when a female crew member either announces a pregnancy or declares that she’s trying to have a baby. In both cases, your best bet is to express happiness for her, then make sure she knows you’ll work with her to figure out accommodations whenever she does actually become pregnant.
Based on South Texas College v. Cynthia V. Arriola.
(From the April 2,2021, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To sign up for a no-obligation trial subscription right now, please click here.)