Yes, this is exactly what a California wholesale distributer of orchids told female employees at staff meetings, according to a new EEOC lawsuit.
The employees were also told “not to get pregnant, that they have too many children, and the next person to get pregnant should stay home and consider herself fired.”
And, oh yes: The suit also alleges that “pregnant employees were not reinstated or rehired when they attempted to return to work following the birth of their children but were discharged from the company.”
The local EEOC director said that “Employers need to be aware that pregnancy discrimination laws also protect employees after they have given birth. Failing to reinstate an employee after maternity leave and discharging them can be a violation of the law.”
Where does one begin to analyze this? Most of the cases we see regarding pregnancy discrimination involve paternalistic-acting employers “concerned” about the health of the employee or fetus, or one-off acts of discrimination. But an espoused grossly illegal policy, which also likely had racial overtones? Which was actually carried out by the company?
As I noted back in July, the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) sets out its priorities. And a company back then seemed to “hit on quite a number of the EEOC’s priority points – sexual harassment, retaliation, and the abuse of vulnerable workers – in this case farmworkers.” Enormous damages of $1.47 million was awarded by a California federal judge to the class of sexually harassed female farmworkers represented by the EEOC in that case.
Pregnancy discrimination is also an EEOC priority: change the sexual harassment from the earlier case to pregnancy discrimination and you have the present case — made more egregious because it was company policy or practice to violate the law.
If proved, wonder what the damages might be?
Earlier I said, apropos farm workers: “The common thread is the vulnerability of these workers: where they are powerless, have low-status jobs, fear the immigration laws, perhaps cannot speak English; are physically isolated in the job; or may be mentally or developmentally challenged.”
My guess is that these women were such vulnerable workers.
As the EEOC’s General Counsel David Lopez said when the EEOC announced a large award in a similar case: “This is the latest in a series of enforcement efforts … This includes those living and working in the shadows who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination.”
And also includes the women in the instant case.