Discrimination Against Pregnant Women Does Not Pay off in the Workplace

pregnantIs your job at risk because you are pregnant? If so, your employer may face some trouble with the law. Only an experienced local employment attorney can say for sure after reviewing the circumstances of your particular case. The fact is, employers have tried to get away with ignoring or even stomping all over women’s rights, and it has not worked out well for them in California.

Jury Award for $185 Million

Consider the case of Rosario Juarez, who sued her employer, AutoZone, after being demoted shortly after giving birth to her son. Juarez states that her boss consistently suggested she step down from her management position due to her pregnancy. When she complained about the prompting and the demotion and filed suit, she was ultimately fired. A jury found that the company had discriminated against her and terminated her in retribution, awarding her nearly $900,000 to compensate her for lost wages and emotional suffering, as well as $185 million in punitive damages. AutoZone was set to appeal the decision, but the two parties came to an agreement for an undisclosed settlement in order to avoid further litigation.

Refusing to Hire Pregnant Applicant Results in Lawsuit

When executive management at Olam Americas, Inc. rescinded a job offer after discovering the applicant was pregnant, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) got involved. They sued the Fresno company in hopes of gaining compensatory and punitive damages on the basis of gender discrimination. The case centered on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the base of gender or pregnancy.  Ultimately, the case was settled for $140,000.

Fired After Giving Birth

A few days after Leah Marshall delivered her infant son, she received a distressing phone call from her manager. Although she had been promised that she could return to her position with Genesco Inc. following the birth of her son, she was now told that there was simply not a spot for her with the San Francisco company. Apparently, company bigwigs did not understand that any discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or problems related to those conditions is illegal under EEOC rules. The EEOC suit sought damages to cover lost wages, emotional suffering, and punitive damages. A federal judge approved a settlement for $5,000 in lost wages and $20,000 for emotional distress. Managers were also ordered to undergo training to avoid future problems with discrimination issues related to pregnancy. [Read more…]

Transgender Employees Health Plan Discrimination

Transgender EmployeesRobinson v. Dignity Health When does a health plan discriminate against transgender employees? A complaint has been filed against the San Francisco-based company Dignity Health on behalf of one of its employees, a transgender nurse. The complaint alleges that his employer categorically discriminates against transgender employees on the basis of their gender by denying coverage of their health care expenses related to gender dysphoria.

The plaintiff, Josef Robinson, works as a nurse at a medical center in Arizona operated by Dignity Health. Robinson was assigned the sex of female at birth, but identifies as male. He sought coverage through his employee health plan for health care related to gender dysphoria, including hormone therapy treatments and double mastectomy surgery.

However, the Dignity Health Plan denies “treatment, drugs, medicines, services and supplies for, or leading to, sex transformation surgery.” As a result, Robinson has paid out of pocket for his hormone therapy treatments, and his request for pre-authorization for double mastectomy surgery was denied. The denial letter stated that the Dignity Health Plan’s exclusion of expenses related to sex transformation surgery means that all treatments related to the diagnosis of gender dysphoria are excluded. After learning about this denial, Robinson cancelled the surgery.

Allegations of Transgender Employees Discrimination                          

After Robinson was denied coverage, Dignity Health was asked to revise its policies regarding medical expenses related to gender dysphoria. The company responded that it would look into the matter, and later issued a statement expressing that it determined that there was no evidence of discriminatory practice in the health plan. Robinson then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that these policies discriminate against transgender employees on the basis of gender. This led to the ACLU filing a complaint against Dignity Health in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on June 6, 2016.

The ACLU’s complaint argues that denying coverage for health care related to gender dysphoria is a form of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it discriminates based on gender nonconformity. The complaint also argues that the denial of coverage is a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which states that covered entities providing health insurance may not categorically exclude all health services related to gender transition.

In May 2016, a judge in Minnesota dismissed a federal lawsuit filed against an employer by an employee whose teenage son was denied health care coverage related to gender dysphoria. In that case, the complaint was rejected on the grounds that the employee was the wrong defendant because she did not personally suffer discrimination. [Read more…]

Does Former USC Coach Sarkisian Have A Discrimination Case

discrimination caseDoes former USC Football Coach Steve Sarkisian have a discrimination case? Steve Sarkisian was fired from his position as head coach of the University of Southern California (USC) football team in October, after incidents during which he allegedly appeared at events intoxicated. Sarkisian has now filed a wrongful termination suit against USC, alleging (among other claims) that the university discriminated against him on account of his alcoholism.

The circumstances of the firing are unclear. Sarkisian claims that he asked athletic director Pat Haden for time off to seek treatment for alcoholism, and in response Haden placed him on indefinite leave. According to Sarkisian’s complaint, he was then “kicked to the curb” less than a day later, when he was notified of his firing via email while he was traveling to a rehabilitation program.

However, USC issued a public statement in response to Sarkisian’s allegations that portrays the matter differently. According to USC, Sarkisian never acknowledged that he had a problem with alcohol and refused help when the university offered it. USC also claims that it provided Sarkisian with written notice that he would lose his job if there were further “incidents.”

Was Sarkisian’s Firing Justified or is a Discrimination Case a Possibility?

The discrimination case deals with some complex issues surrounding discrimination law. Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), alcoholism is a protected disability. It is illegal under both statutes to discriminate against an employee based on the stigma of alcoholism or based on past alcohol use. However, an employee is not protected when it comes to current alcohol abuse or misbehavior that arises from alcohol abuse.

Sarkisian’s complaint acknowledges that he “appeared” inebriated at a USC fundraising event called Salute to Troy and that he uttered an obscenity at the event. Sarkisian claims that he drank two beers and then took two prescription anxiety medications, and that his behavior stemmed from the mixture of the medication and the alcohol in his system. This event could prove to be crucial to the case. If the finder of fact determines that this constituted Sarkisian being intoxicated at work, then the incident could be seen as a justifiable reason for termination.

However, if the finder of fact determines that Sarkisian was fired for seeking treatment for alcoholism, then his termination could be seen as discriminatory. It is generally considered a violation of the ADA as well as FEHA to fire an employee under such circumstances. [Read more…]

Are Unpaid Interns Protected From Harassment or Discrimination in the Workplace?

InternshipAre unpaid interns protected from harassment or discrimination in the workplace? California employment law is changing rapidly and creating more protections for employees.  In addition, Governor Brown just signed a new law that protects unpaid interns from harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

California law already prohibited discrimination and harassment of employees.  The new law means that unpaid interns are also afforded the same protections.

What does the law provide for unpaid interns?

  • Employers cannot discriminate against interns on the basis of protected characteristics in the hiring, firing or training of unpaid interns.  Protected characteristics include age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • Employers may not harass unpaid interns based on protected characteristics. As is the case with employees, employers may be liable for harassment against unpaid interns if the employer knows about the harassment and fails to take appropriate corrective action.
  • Employers specifically may not discriminate against unpaid interns on the basis of their religious beliefs and must provide reasonable accommodations for interns to observe religious obligations.

The law goes into effect January 1, 2015.  California joins New York, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Illinois as states that have laws that protect unpaid interns against sexual harassment and discrimination.

Why Protect Unpaid Interns?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California state law already provided protection for employees.  The new California law extending protections to interns was proposed after several courts around the country barred unpaid interns from bringing sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuits because they technically are not employees.

A case in New York that received a lot of media attention was one involving a Syracuse University student who sued the company where she was an intern because she alleged that her supervisor had sexually harassed her and groped her then retaliated against her when she reported his misconduct.  The court in New York decided that the intern could not sue the company where she had her internship because the law only protected employees, not interns.

The new law is especially important in California, where jobs in the entertainment, film, media and technology industries are highly competitive and many people are willing to work as unpaid interns with the hope of eventually becoming a paid employee.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment comes in many different forms, but includes:

  • threatening an employee with termination, a reduction of hours, less desirable work shifts, or denial of a promotion if the employee does not perform sexual favors;
  • unwanted sexual advances;
  • inappropriate touching; and
  • sharing inappropriate sexual images, pornography or other sexual content with employees.

What is Discrimination?

If an employer makes decisions regarding its employees and uses an employee’s gender, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy or disability to make that decision, that employer may be engaging in discrimination.  Some of these decisions may include who to hire and fire, how much to pay employees, which employees receive a promotion, who loses their job during layoffs, and retirement plans.  There may be other situations where an employer unlawfully discriminates against an employee.  If you believe you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, it is best to consult with an attorney.

Experienced California Employment Attorneys

If you feel that you have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it is important to consult with an experienced employment attorney who will discuss your rights with you.  The attorneys at Beck Law P.C. have experience negotiating and litigating employment law issues and are available to discuss your case.  Please contact us to make an appointment.


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