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Best Employment Lawyer Answers: What is pregnancy discrimination? What can I do if I was fired while on maternity leave? How do I show that my employer lied about the reason it fired me?

When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, she eventually will tell many people. Most of the announcements will be very happily made – to a spouse, a partner, parents, friends, and other family members.  However, many women fear one announcement more than the rest combined – telling their employer about the pregnancy. The call to the boss, manager, supervisor, or the owner of the company often cause an inordinate amount of stress fear of pregnancy discrimination, wrongful termination, or other forms of workplace retaliation. There is concern about how the company will respond to your request for time off or maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act  (“FMLA”), which provides qualified workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave with job protection. (See What Is FMLA Interference?).

Today, our employment lawyers are focusing on the very real problem of pregnancy discrimination. What is pregnancy discrimination? Pregnancy discrimination is a form of unlawful gender discrimination that occurs when an employer fires, refuses to hire, or less favorably treats expectant women workers. Such conduct is unlawful pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”), which modified Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, the PDA, which applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees, makes it against the law for employers to have policies or take actions that limit or prevent women from doing jobs because they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or even if of childbearing age. The PDA further prohibits employer policies and actions that disparately impact such women. The PDA applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, hours, shift assignments, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and benefits. (See What Do I Do If I’m Fired Right After I Returned From Maternity Leave? Call The Right Employment Discrimination Attorney)

To avoid the consequences of violating the PDA, many bosses, managers, and business owners believe that they can outsmart everyone by lying about the reasons for taking an adverse employment action against a pregnant worker. (see What Is An Adverse Employment Action?) Our experienced employment law attorneys have seen and heard all of the excuses. (Pregnancy And Maternity Discrimination Excuses That Have Failed). When an employer lies about the reason that it is discriminating or firing a pregnant woman, employment lawyers refer to this lie as pretext. (See Employment Discrimination Question: What Is Pretext?).

Today, we have an example of a more recent form of lie or pretext. Many employers, when looking for an excuse to discriminate, have used the COVID pandemic as an excuse. Let’s look at a recent example.  Shortly before, the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, executive Jordan Kafenbaum informed her employer SoulCycle, that she was pregnant. According to Kafenbaum, her employer immediately started to unfavorably change the way it treated her.  Specifically, the head of their human resources (“HR”) allegedly announced Kafenbaum’s pregnancy at a large company meeting without her prior knowledge or approval. Then, when Kafenbaum reported and objected to this invasion of privacy, she was retaliated against with the silent treatment by her superiors. As she neared her FMLA approved maternity leave, her direct boss made stated in front of her that her team “needs a new leader” and she would need to transition to a new role. Apparently, the employer wanted Kafenbaum to take a hint and leave on her own, but when she did not, they fired her in April 2020 – 32 days after she gave birth and while she was on her FMLA leave.

As most good employees, Kafenbaum was curious about why she was fired. But, according to her, SoulCycle only offered changing and inconsistent reasons for her termination, such as department re-organization, performance concerns, and position elimination. When she pushed for more information, the employer used the global coronavirus pandemic as an excuse.

As our employment law attorneys will tell you, the best way to prove a pretext is to point to inconsistencies in the reasons given. Essentially, if an employer cannot keep the story straight the court will likely let the jury determine credibility.

Moreover, Kafenbaum alleged that three other women who were fired around the same time had either recently returned from maternity leave or were pregnant. It is important to recognize that even if a company has to reduce it force – for whatever reason – it cannot decide who goes based on any protected class, such as pregnancy. This patter further supports that the reasons given for termination are pretext.

Of course, it gets worse. The complaint, which asserted claims under the PDA, Title VII and FMLA, further alleged that Melanie Whelan, SoulCycle’s CEO at the time, told a senior vice president that “paternity leave is for pussies.” Ouch. That would not have played well in front of a jury. It is also important to recognize that women can be perpetrators of pregnancy and gender discrimination against other women.

Most employers when faced with the prospect of facing experienced and well-resourced employment attorneys want no part of letting a jury decide their fate. And, that is what happened in this case when the employer agreed to settle with Kafenbaum for an undisclosed amount and dismissed the case from the Southern District of New York.

If you are facing discrimination or harassment simply because you are pregnant, protect your legal rights — call the right attorney. Under federal and Ohio employment laws, employers cannot harass, fire, wrongfully terminate, discriminate against, demote, or wrongfully discipline a female employee just because she got pregnant, is planning to get pregnant or recently had her baby. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, you will meet with an attorney from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. Our pregnancy discrimination lawyers know your rights and will fight to protect them. Call our top attorneys in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Youngtown, and Detroit.

Disclaimer:

The above pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination example is not case handled by Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm. Our attorneys do not blog about settlements we obtain because of confidentiality requirements. The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “What should I do if I was fired after giving birth”, “My boss will not let me take maternity leave”, or “How do I sue for pregnancy discrimination”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to pregnancy discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.