Terminating an employee after learning she is pregnant can lead to a federal lawsuit.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in June that it filed suit against Cassone Leasing for pregnancy discrimination.

It said that Cassone hired a woman who, unbeknownst to the company, was 12 weeks pregnant.

After hiring her, she received a very positive 30-day review.

“The very next day, however, Cassone’s operations manager became aware of her pregnancy and made the decision to fire her for pretextual reasons,” the EEOC said.

The lawsuit is pending.

Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination cases can yield big jury verdicts.

In 2015, a California jury awarded a former AutoZone employee $850,000 in compensatory damages and a whopping $185 million in punitive damages when she claimed to have been demoted, and then terminated, due to her pregnancy. The parties thereafter settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

As part of the non-discrimination provisions, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act also requires that employers treat pregnant women “the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

This means that employers may be required to provide light duty and other accommodations for pregnant workers similar to that provided to other employees for other situations, according to the U.S. Supreme Court in a recent ruling involving UPS.

Pregnancy discrimination is nothing new.

A student in one of my graduate classes explained during her interview for employment she was asked if she was “on the pill” and then told that the company had a five-year rule — meaning you could not get pregnant for five years after hire.

Another student asked if a person fails to disclose her pregnancy during the interview could she be terminated for “fraud” for her failure to disclose. No applicant is required to disclose a pregnancy before or after being offered employment.

Pregnancy discrimination is one characteristic that undeniably results in an adverse impact to women generally.

For this reason, employers need to be hyper vigilant to level the playing fields of men and women.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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