Human Resources News & Insights

And the Employer Policy Hall of Shame’s newest inductee is …

Did this organization really think it could get away with this policy, which should immediately be enshrined in the Employer Policy Hall of Shame? 

United Bible Fellowship Ministries Inc., a Houston-based non-profit organization that provides housing and residential care to disabled clients, had a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy.

That’s right … if you’re pregnant, you can’t work there. It prohibited the continued employment of any employee who became pregnant and prevented the employment of any pregnant applicant seeking a resource technician position, according to the EEOC, which sued the employer over the policy.

The policy came to the agency’s attention after United Bible fired Sharmira Johnson, a resource technician who provided care to United Bible residents, after she got pregnant. Johnson took her story to the EEOC.

The agency then sued in U.S. district court, claiming the policy violated Title VII of the Civil Right Act, after it tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

While admitting that Johnson had performed her job well and had no medical restrictions at the time she was terminated, United Bible said her firing was legal — arguing it ensured her safety, as well as that of her unborn child.

But whether or not the organization was looking out of their safety, basing a decision to terminate solely on an employee’s protected status (pregnancy, disability, age, race, gender, etc.) is illegal under federal law (as this case also pointed out).

The verdict

The court ruled that United Bible had “recklessly failed to comply with Title VII” and awarded Johnson $24,764 in back pay and overtime, as well as $50,000 in punitive damages, according to a statement by the EEOC.

The court went on to say that United Bible failed to show that all, or substantially all, pregnant women would be unable to safely and efficiently perform the duties of a resource technician, the EEOC said.

Adding insult to injury, the court pointed out that United Bible was under a funding contract with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability, which specifically required the organization to comply with all anti-discrimination laws.

Following the trial, EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, warned employers that they cannot “impose paternalistic and unsubstantiated views on the alleged dangers of pregnancy to exclude all pregnant women from employment.”

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