There are both federal laws and state laws protecting employees from discrimination based on physical limitations such as handicaps, illness, gender, race, and membership in many other protected classes. Yet despite the fact that it is nearly universally understood that treating employees differently based on these factors is wrong and often illegal, many companies continue to violate the laws and treat their workers unfairly. A recent example of this made national news when the most circulated newspaper in the United States, USA Today, fired a female sales executive immediately after she announced her pregnancy, and just months after the death of her first infant. The woman has filed a pregnancy bias lawsuit in New York federal court.
The case filed by Serena Bhaduri is all-too familiar to countless women who have faced their own discriminatory actions after revealing their pregnancies. Bhaduri is a sales executive who had been a top performer from the time she joined the publication’s digital sales department in late 2017. But when she went out on maternity leave in November of 2018 and gave birth to a son who died, everything changed. Upon her return to work she was met with harsh criticism from two managers who claimed that she had become too “negative.” In her lawsuit, Bhaduri claims that both managers treated her far differently after her return, sabotaging her work and then firing her as soon as she announced that she was expecting again.
The complaint against USA Today not only notes the firing, but also the ill treatment that she received when she was still grieving her son. The complaint states, "It is truly astonishing that USA Today would punish and shun Ms. Bhaduri at a time when she was most vulnerable, simply because it was potentially costly and inconvenient to continue employing a pregnant woman."
Though Ms. Bhaduri returned to work shortly after her son’s death, she claims that her direct supervisor began criticizing her in a way that differed from the treatment afforded other employees. When she complained to another supervisor about the harsh treatment she was receiving she got no relief. She eventually turned to the company’s COO for assistance, but was criticized for these efforts and told that her poor attitude was impacting her coworkers.
Following this she took one month of bereavement leave, only to find that the clients that she had worked hard to cultivate had been assigned to a single, childless male colleague. Upon her return she was not allowed to return to working with her previous clients. Shortly after her return from bereavement leave Ms. Bhaduri revealed that she was pregnant again, only to find that meetings that had previously been scheduled with her managers had been canceled. She was told shortly thereafter that her employment was being terminated due to her “negative attitude.” In her lawsuit Ms. Bhaduri points out a pattern of similar mistreatment of other pregnant USA Today employees, including another woman who was fired from her team shortly after announcing that she was expecting.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination was amended in 2014 to specifically forbid discrimination on the basis of pregnancy through the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The PWFA protects all women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and all women who have suffered any medical complications as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. The PWFA requires reasonable accommodations to be made for these employees. For pregnant workers, this includes, but is not limited to, “bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.” For breastfeeding employees, this includes, but is not limited to, “reasonable break time each day to the employee and a suitable room or other location with privacy, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the work area for the employee to express breast milk for the child.”
Discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal in the state of New Jersey. If you have been a victim of the type of treatment that Ms. Bhaduri suffered at the hands of her employer, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.