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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pregnancy Discrimination Cost Medical Staffing $148,000


Alabama@Work
By Tommy Eden, Attorney


Roxy Leger, the bookkeeper for HCS Medical Staffing, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin became pregnant. On hearing the news the owner of the Company referred to Leger's pregnancy as an “April Fools joke” and insisted that maternity leave should last no more than a couple of days. He later suggested that Leger's pre-natal appointments were a ruse for additional time off and then gave her an offensive graphic diagram of a machine which would allegedly allow her to have the baby by “Centrifugal Force” and thus return from her maternity leave sooner. Leger thought it all creepy.

Roxy Leger had her baby boy by Caesarean section. With no prior warning or discipline, HCS terminated Leger's employment and health insurance while she was still in the hospital recovering. Leger learned of her termination days later by certified mail which she believed was a gift card. Leger became depressed and failed to bond properly with her new born son.

An EEOC Charge for pregnancy discrimination was filed, and was followed by a suit in the U.S. District Court. The suit charged that the owner of HCS discriminated against Leger in violation of federal law, when he made offensive comments about her pregnancy and fired her because she needed to take maternity leave following the birth of her son. Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

After HCS failed to file a timely answer, the Judge entered a default judgment against the Company on Feb. 17, 2012. He ordered HCS to pay Roxy Leger back pay plus pre-judgment interest in the sum of $48,340; compensatory damages in the sum of $50,000; and punitive damages amounting to $50,000; totaling $148,340. In addition to the monetary relief, the judge ordered that HCS be permanently enjoined from engaging in any further pregnancy discrimination.

Judge J.P. Stadtmueller found that the “circumstances leading up to HCS's discriminatory termination of Leger were inherently humiliating and caused Leger substantial emotional distress. The circumstances surrounding Leger's notification of termination were equally degrading.”

Common Sense Counsel: The conduct described in this case was deplorable and started as a series of bad jokes. These are “hair on fire” managers because everyone around them sees how outrageous their conduct is, but no one speaks up. How to prevent the fire from burning up your business: 1) adopt a legally compliant non-discrimination policy and train every employee – especially senior management; 2) speak up in your workplace when you witness discrimination; 3) seek wise counsel and know when to settle rather than face the costly pen of a Federal Judge.

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Capell & Howard, P.C. and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at tme@chlaw.com or 334-501-1540 or www.AlabamaAtWork.com .