Claiming that the company violated her rights according to the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, a former employee is suing Target Corporation. Last week, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced that they would not grant summary judgment to Target. This ruling allows the case to go forward, and it is expected to be decided at the trial level sometime in 2013.
According to Christina Spigarelli's attorneys, Spigarelli was employed by Target for approximately two years before she became pregnant and found out. At the time when she notified her employer that she had become pregnant, she had not faced any disciplinary action within the company for over 10 months. Prior to that, she had been disciplined at one time for apprehending a shoplifting suspect in a way that violated the company's protocols for asset protection and loss prevention.
However, her announcement of her pregnancy seemed to change how her supervisor treated her. She was given repeated warnings suddenly for violating parts of her job's protocol—parts which she had not been accused of violating even once in the time before she announced her pregnancy. After the third of these violations was recorded within a two week period, Spigarelli says that her supervisor informed her that her employment had been terminated.
The violations being recorded weren't just suspicious because of their timing. According to Spigarelli, her supervisor actually spoke with her about her pregnancy, and did so in an alarming way. The supervisor told her that “pregnancy hormones” made women into poor decision makers, and talked about experiences with other pregnant women that made her feel this way. These comments had the effect of making Spigarelli feel belittled for her pregnancy and delegitimized her authority in her department according to the complaint.
The supervisor told Spigarelli that pregnant women “get emotional and their hormones get all affected,” and that Spigarelli “was being too emotional and getting caught up into things.” The district court judge ruled that these comments, in combination with the suspicious timing of the new conduct warnings, made summary judgment impossible in the case.
When being accused of discrimination under Title VII or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is not enough in courts for companies to simply give someone enough written warnings until they are forced to leave. If the courts determine that the relationship between a woman's pregnancy and her termination were causal, then the company will be held liable for that discrimination even if they were able to indicate some other reason for the termination.
Employers are also not allowed, according to standards set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to “constructively terminate” an employee by creating a workplace environment that would make a reasonable person quit. The fact that the EEOC is now pursuing these cases for pregnancy discrimination in the workplace means that employers should be especially careful to make sure that pregnant women are being treated in accordance with the law.
Source: uscourts.gov, eeoc.gov