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Pregnancy Discrimination Laws Protect Non-Pregnant Employees on Maternity Leave

Even though generally employers can fire someone for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all, they cannot fire someone for a discriminatory reason.  A recent District Court case in Connecticut reminds employers that anti-discrimination laws are far-reaching and protection for pregnant employees lasts well beyond nine months!

In this case, a female employee was fired while on maternity leave.  She brought claims for pregnancy discrimination under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.  In order to prove her discrimination claim, the plaintiff must first show she 1) is a member of a protected class; 2) was a satisfactory employee; 3) was fired; and 4) was replaced by someone outside her protected class or the circumstances surrounding her discharge give rise to an inference of discrimination.   

The employer in this case moved for Summary Judgment claiming the plaintiff failed to satisfy the first element of the test: that she was pregnant.  The employer argued the law protects pregnant employees, but the plaintiff was not pregnant when she was fired.  The court disagreed finding the laws protect women affected by pregnancy, not women who are pregnant.  Therefore, the plaintiff, having given birth only one month before her discharge, was affected by pregnancy and therefore covered.

The case will now continue to trial.  It will be interesting to see whether the plaintiff ultimately prevails.  For now, employers in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont need to be aware that there is a trend in the Second Circuit towards protecting women on maternity leave against discrimination.  Employers everywhere should always document all instances of employee misconduct especially those leading to discharge.  This is every employer’s best defense to a claim of discrimination.    

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 info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.