Two pregnancy discrimination settlements recently announced by the EEOC illustrate the added risk employers assume when firing a pregnant worker.
In the first case, a Chicago-based childcare center paid $31,000 to settle allegations that it had forced a pregnant employee to quit by refusing to allow her to work after her fourth month of pregnancy.
In the second case, a Detroit-area hotel paid $27,500 to settle allegations that it had fired a housekeeper out of fear of potential harm to the development of her baby.
Last week, I wrote about whether an employer should choose to litigate a case or settle early. One consideration I did not cover, perhaps because it seems like common sense, is that the merits (or lack thereof) of the case can be a driving factor. In discussing the case involving the childcare center, the EEOC's Chicago regional attorney underscored this important factor: "Really early resolution of this case—before any depositions were taken created a win-win situation for everyone. This employer avoided investing in litigation expenses which would not have yielded a different result and was able refocus on its business in a hurry." Given the risk presented by these cases and the relatively low value settlement payments, it's hard to argue with his opinion on the value of early resolutions.
Firing a pregnant employee is a risky proposition. You not only have to worry about Title VII, but also potential liability under the Family and Medical Leave Act (if you are large enough to be covered), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (if the employee suffers from a pregnancy-related medical condition). Unless you want to face a settle-or-litigate Hobson's choice, you need to think long and hard before firing, or taking any other adverse action against, a pregnant worker.