- Blog post
If you were the judge: Was she fired for morning sickness?
“This is creating an unfair burden on your co-workers,” customer service supervisor Marlene Scopes told employee Kimberly Dean. “When you keep rushing off to the bathroom in the middle of phone calls, somebody else has to pick them up for you and drop their own work.”
“I understand that you can’t control your morning sickness, but we’ve tried to work with you,” Marlene went on. “I said you could come in an hour or two late if that would help, but you chose not to.”
“Come in late and do less than 30 hours a week so I’m not eligible for benefits!” Kimberly riposted. “I need them now that I’m pregnant.”
“That’s not what I intended,” Marlene said. “And as you remember, I suggested you ask your doctor what further accommodations we could make. You never did.”
“Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge now,” Marlene said. “Your performance has been poor for weeks and hasn’t improved despite a written warning. Not only do you leave your colleagues holding the bag, your customer records are in disorder. I have to terminate you.”
Kimberly stared at Marlene for a long moment. “There’s a word for that,” she said at last.
“What word?” Marlene asked.
“Discrimination,” Kimberly said. “You can’t get away with dumping me because I’m pregnant and inconvenient for you. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
True to her word, Kimberly did sue her former employer for pregnancy discrimination. Did she win?
No, Kimberly lost her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. The court ruled that supervisor Marlene remained within the law in firing her for poor performance.
The court said the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t require preferential treatment for pregnant employees, and that was essentially what Kimberly was asking for. She wanted free rein to leave her work station whenever she felt nauseous, but no other employees were frequently allowed to rush away in the middle of customer transactions.
The law requires that supervisors treat pregnant employees in exactly the same way they treat others. If you supervise a pregnant employee:
- Don’t be the first to raise the subject of the pregnancy, even if it’s visible. If the employee wants to talk about it, she will do so when she’s ready.
- Don’t assume that the employee is unable to do her work, or some portion of it, because of her pregnancy.
- With HR, do consider a reasonable work accommodation if the employee asks.
Cite: Elam v. Regions Financial Corp., No. 09-2004, 8th Cir., 4/19/10. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.