A recent lawsuit proves once again that one offhand comment by a manager can be enough to result in a costly legal battle.
Alena Fassbender was a medication aide at Correct Care Solutions, a company that provides healthcare for prison inmates. Shortly after Fassbender revealed she was pregnant, she was fired.
‘Too many pregnant workers’
When Fassbender sued for pregnancy discrimination, the company claimed she was fired for violating its “no fraternization” policy — Fassbender had received a romantic note from an inmate and hadn’t reported it immediately.
But testimony from Fassbender and other employees suggested otherwise. Several workers were also pregnant, and when Fassbender initially told her manager about her pregnancy, the manager said, “What, you’re pregnant too?”
A few days later, another employee overheard the manager say, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to handle all these people being pregnant at once” and “I have too many pregnant workers. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of them.”
A circuit court sent the case to trial, finding the company’s actions “sufficiently suspicious.” Its reasoning for firing Fassbender kept changing, and the manager who made the comments about the pregnant workers had been reprimanded by the company. A few months after Fassbender had been fired, Correct Care Solutions hired a new employee who also was pregnant, which caused the court to question its motivations.
The company is now facing a long legal battle or a costly settlement.
This case is a great reminder that managers can have the ability to make or break a case: the right response may prevent a lawsuit, and the wrong one can cost a company big. Proper anti-discrimination training can help managers avoid missteps like this.
Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions LLC, U.S. Crt. of App. 10th Circuit, No. 17-3054, 5/15/18.