Court throws firms a curve over discriminatory discharge and maternity leave laws

by on June 23, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Maternity leave law claims are not covered up by hiring pregnant workers

An employer can’t “take the curse off” a discriminatory termination under maternity leave laws by hiring another member of the group that was allegedly discriminated against.

That’s the upshot of a recent federal court decision in Virginia. An employee claimed she was fired because her boss had a burr under his saddle about women, especially pregnant ones. After she became pregnant, she said, he fabricated a case for ousting her, and did so several months after she gave birth.

When she sued for gender discrimination and for violations of the maternity leave laws, the court didn’t dismiss her case, as many observers expected.

Different decision makers

Usually, to make a discriminatory termination case, employees must show not only that they were doing their job adequately, but also that they were replaced by a person outside their class. In other words, a white person replaces a black, or a man replaces a woman.

But the court carved out an exception in this case. An employee doesn’t have to show he or she was replaced by a person outside their class if one decision maker fires discriminatorily, and a different decision maker hires a replacement from a protected class.

Wrongful discharge under maternity leave laws

Of course, the best way to making sure you document a clear business purpose for firing anyone.

Managers need to be aware that their concerns over productivity are only part of the equation, and that they can cost the company a pile by a wrongful discharge.

Cite: Miles v. Dell, No. 04-2500, 4th Cir., 11/22/05

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