“This isn’t going to work, you taking so much time off,” supervisor Barbara Trask told employee Melinda Stieglitz, who had telephoned to say she wouldn’t be in again that day.
“You know I’m expecting,” Melinda said indignantly. “My doctor put me off this week because of pregnancy-related stress and cramping.”
“If absences due to your pregnancy were all we were talking about, it would be O.K.,” Barbara said. “But earlier this year you missed more than two weeks that were not related to your pregnancy.
“I can’t staff the department when one person is out so often,” Barbara went on. “You’ve already had an oral warning, and I have to tell you one more absence will have serious disciplinary consequences.”
FMLA not the answer
“Why can’t I take that family leave thing?” Melinda said.
“FMLA? You haven’t been here long enough to qualify,” Barbara said. “Maybe we can look at some kind of disability accommodation. But you can’t keep piling up absences.”
“As a woman, you ought to understand what I’m going through, with two kids at home and another on the way,” Melinda said resentfully. “But all you do is put more pressure on me with these threats.”
“I’m sorry you see it that way,” Barbara said calmly.
Melinda hung up without another word. The next day, she dropped her office keys off with the receptionist and said, “I’m done here.”
Later, Melinda sued, claiming she was pressured into resigning because of her pregnancy. Did she win?
No, Melinda didn’t win her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.
Melinda claimed Barbara, by telling her that one more absence would lead to discipline, made attendance demands that were impossible for a pregnant woman to meet, and were intended to make her quit.
But the court said that while this demand may have been unpleasant for Melinda, it didn’t make her working environment intolerable. Melinda could have returned after her week of medical leave to see whether things could be worked out. The court also noted that Barbara’s mention of a disability accommodation indicated that she wanted to keep Melinda on, if possible.
Your supervisory rights
Supervisors have the right – and the duty – to counsel employees about attendance and other conduct issues. As long as you refrain from abusive threats, such employees can’t quit and then claim you forced them out.
Thanks to everyone who joined in the conversation yesterday. Check back soon for the next installment of If You Were The Judge.
Cite: Trierweiler v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 10-1343, 8th Cir., 4/8/11. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.
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