Pregnancy Discrimination Claims: Even Associations Full of Attorneys are Not Immune
A former employee of the New York County Lawyers Association (“NYCLA”) recently filed a discrimination suit alleging the bar association harassed and discriminated against her due to pregnancies. While the case is just beginning, it offers a laundry list of misdeeds an employer could do. It also is a good reminder – even an association full of lawyers is not immune from discrimination claims.
The former employee, Heidi Leibowitz, worked as a fee dispute program administrator. She claims during a high-risk pregnancy in 2013, NYCLA forced her to do physically demanding work that she didn’t have to do before she became pregnant. When she returned to work after having the baby, she was told her assistant was fired and she would not get another one.
NYCLA also allegedly refused to provide Leibowitz with an appropriate place to pump breast milk. She was allegedly forbidden her from using her own office and forced to use the bathroom. She even claims she was no longer allowed to close her own office door, even though she was never stopped from doing so before – all so she couldn’t possibly pump breast milk in her office. NYCLA allegedly told Leibowitz to provide them with a set pumping schedule and each pump break could not be longer than a cigarette break or 15 minutes. After complaining to HR about not having a proper place to pump milk, she was told she could use a conference room on a different floor, although they were almost never available for use.
The NYCLA’s Managing Director and another Director allegedly questioned Leibowitz whether she planned on having any more kids and made other “snide” comments, such as asking “how many babies do you people have!?”
Early into her second pregnancy in 2015 – so early she was not showing and hadn’t yet disclosed the pregnancy – a coworker approached Leibowitz and asked if she was pregnant. That employee confessed she was tasked with asking the question by the Managing Director and Director who had a “formal” meeting after hours the day before about their belief Leibowitz was pregnant again.
Over the course of her second pregnancy, Leibowitz claims her workload increased, as did the amount of supervision she had. She was required to give notice via email every time she left the office for lunch or to go to the bathroom. According to the complaint, during this time, she received numerous “nasty” text messages, and notes pinned to her computer on almost a daily basis. While she was on leave for her second child, the NYCLA reduced her position to part time, and eventually terminated her a month before she was due to return from leave.
The case is pending in Kings County Court and it might be a while before we have a resolution – but let this case serve as a lesson: no matter who you are, or who you work with, you are not immune from discrimination claims. If a group full of lawyers that identifies itself on its webpage as “one of the largest, most influential bar associations in the country,” which has “pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and public policy” can be subject to suit for making stupid mistakes, let’s face it – no employer is immune.
Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment laws in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.454.0560.