Mark McGraw’s article in Human Resource Executive Online, “Preventing Pregnancy Discrimination” was particularly interesting in what it reveals about how NOT to accommodate pregnant employees.
McGraw reports that Rooms to Go Furniture Corp, a Seffner, FL based chain, agreed to pay a $55,000 settlement for a pregnancy discrimination filed by the EEOC.
Chantoni McBryde was hired as a shop apprentice on June 1, 2015 in RTG’s temporary training facility in Dunn, NC. Two days later, McBryde alerted her trainer she was pregnant. According to the lawsuit, McBryde was summoned to meet the company’s regional shop manager and others later that same day.
During the meeting, McBryde allegedly was presented a can of lacquer thinner with a label warning the contents could pose risk to a pregnant woman and the unborn child. The manager then told McBryde her pregnancy meant she could no longer work at the facility.
McGraw’s article goes on to report after first trying to reach a prelitigation settlement, the EEOC filed suit in North Carolina, alleging barring McBryde to work because she was pregnant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
McGraw shared a perspective from James Hammerschmidt, a co-managing partner at Paley Rothman in Bethesda, MD, that “the extraordinarily short time between the hiring and firing, as well as the settlement, suggest there is little reason to doubt [McBryd’s] version of the events.”
Hammerschmidt explained McBryde was clearly protected by law and that it was her decision to accept risks associated with using various chemicals. He also indicated EEOC guidelines for pregnancy discrimination state that an employer’s concern about risk to the employee or unborn child rarely justify job restrictions.
When RTG showed apparent concern for McBryde and her unborn child and the possible effect of toxic chemicals by telling her what to do, rather than allowing her to decide, it crossed a line not endorsed by the EEOC. McGraw cites Josh Woodard, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix. Woodward posited a written disclosure detailing potential risks would have allowed McBryde to make her own decision.
That same disclosure, according to Woodward, should have been offered to male coworkers, allowing them to determine acceptable risks.
As the above scenario reveals, despite motivation, how employers interact with employees and dictate their employability may unintentionally violate the law.
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