A former worker at a Mexican food restaurant chain has been awarded $550,000 – which includes punitive damages – after a federal jury in Washington D.C. found she was in fact discriminated for her pregnancy.
Although the national chain, Chipotle, and its franchise owner had denied that it had fired the woman for her pregnancy, the jury opined this was in fact the reason for her termination from the job.
The case dates back four years. It was at that time in 2011 when plaintiff became pregnant while working at the fast-food restaurant. It was not long after she informed the manager of her pregnancy that he started acting out. He restricted her access to water. He also began giving her a hard time about bathroom breaks and informed her she needed to limit them. He even went so far as to say that anytime she needed to go to the bathroom, she had to announce it to every employee in the store, and further that he had to approve them so that her post could be covered.
These kinds of restrictions were not imposed on non-pregnant employees.
Plaintiff said one afternoon, she had a prenatal doctor’s appointment and requested in advance to leave work early. This request was denied. She made the request again several times throughout the shift. Her request was repeatedly denied. Eventually, she left for her appointment anyway. When she returned to her job the following day, the manager fired her the next day – loudly, and in front of all the other employees in the store.
What the jury determined was that this behavior by the manager, in addition to being obnoxious, was illegal because it amounted to discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids companies from taking into account a woman’s pregnancy when taking any kind of negative employment action (i.e., hiring, firing, layoff, training, promotion, fringe benefits such as leave and health insurance, job assignments, pay, etc.). Employers may also be required to offer reasonable accommodations in some cases where medical conditions arise as a result of pregnancy. For example, a worker may have to use the bathroom more frequently than before. A worker may need to attend doctor’s appointments. Workers may also in some cases need accommodations so they aren’t required to stand for long periods or lift heavier materials. These are the same sorts of accommodations that might be made for any worker who suffers from a temporary disability (though pregnancy in and of itself is not considered a “disability”).
While our Orange County pregnancy discrimination attorneys wish we could say this was an isolated incident, the fact is, these cases are increasingly common – or at least, they are being reported with increasing regularity. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) reports more than 3,500 pregnancy discrimination complaints were filed last year.
This isn’t even the only such complaint against this particular chain. According to Slate.com, a former Los Angeles worker for this same company filed a sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against her one-time employer. She alleged one manager kept ordering her uniforms that were several sizes too small. Another manager often forcibly hugged her and, in so doing, put his hands under her shirt on her back and stomach after touching something cold.
And earlier this year, a federal grand jury in Ohio ordered the firm to pay $200,000 to three previous general managers who alleged gender discrimination and wrongful termination. One of those alleged she was fired soon after she returned from her maternity leave.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Ex-Chipotle employee awarded $550,000 in pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, Aug. 8, 2016, By Sarah Whitten, CNBC
More Blog Entries:
Sexual Harassment Training Under Scrutiny by California Investigator, May 5, 2016, California Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer Blog