Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Feds Sue Chicago Board of Education; Claim Pregnancy Discrimination

If employers needed another reminder as to why they must be aware of the laws affecting pregnant women, they got it last Tuesday in the form of a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education. The lawsuit, brought by the Department of Justice, alleged the existence of “regular, purposeful, and less-favorable treatment of teachers because of their sex (pregnancies)” at Scammon Elementary School, located on Chicago’s Northwest side.

The Department of Justice stated that it brought the lawsuit “to enforce the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Title VII forbids employers from discriminating against an employee due to race, religion, gender, age, disability, and, after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy. Title VII applies to employers with more than 15 employees, and forbids an employer from:

  • Refusing to hire a job applicant because she is pregnant; 
  • Firing, demoting, or disciplining an employee for being pregnant; 
  • Discriminating against an employee on the basis of a past pregnancy or a potential pregnancy;
  • Refusing to allow a pregnant employee to use accumulated sick days.

The lawsuit alleges that Scammon’s principal, Mary Weaver, tried to fire two teachers after learning of their pregnancies. Weaver gave the teachers performance reviews of “excellent,” but, after learning of their pregnancies, claimed that their performance had declined and that they should be fired.  

In fact, the lawsuit alleges that “[f]rom 2009 to at least 2012, Principal Weaver targeted all teachers at Scammon who became pregnant and/or who returned to work at Scammon after their pregnancies by subjecting them to disparate treatment with regard to performance evaluation ratings, classroom observations, and threatened and/or actual termination.”

The lawsuit further alleges that the two teachers filed discrimination complaints with the Chicago Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigated the charges and found evidence that discrimination occurred. While the EEOC attempted to reach a settlement with the Board of Education, it was unable to do so.

Both state and federal laws protect pregnant employees, and actions that discriminate against them violate those laws, even if that discrimination was unintentional. We recommend that all employers create some kind of policy manual and implement training explaining the laws protecting pregnant women and ways to avoid violating those laws.