Appeals court reverses pregnancy discrimination verdict

In the modern workplace, discrimination is much more subtle than its earlier forms. An illegal form of employment discrimination that Wisconsin women sometimes face today is pregnancy discrimination. These cases can be difficult to prove because employers will generally list a non-discriminatory business reason for firing or refusing to hire a pregnant woman.

In a recent high-profile pregnancy discrimination case, a verdict in favor of the plaintiff has now been overturned.

The case involved a woman who applied for a job at the George Lucas compound. The company was reportedly concerned about hiring the woman, who was of high social stature, for the menial job. The employer decided to give her a month-long tryout. Shortly before the tryout was scheduled to begin, the woman learned she was pregnant with twins and lost one of them; in light of this, the start date of the tryout was moved.

Later, the tryout was pushed back again and shortened to three weeks due to the supervisor’s needs. This concerned the job candidate and she emailed the supervisor to ask whether the shortened tryout meant the company was no longer serious about hiring her because she was pregnant.

A pregnancy discrimination lawsuit ensued and the supervisor testified that the email raised red flags because it made her perceive the job candidate as entitled. Furthermore, she expressed concern about the pregnant woman being in a stressful job.

A jury sided with the plaintiff and awarded her $113,830 in damages. But, on Monday an appeals court reversed the verdict stating that the jury had been misguided.

The court said the jury should have been told that employers may make unfair business decisions as long as they are not motivated by discrimination or retaliation.

Additionally, the appeals court said the trial court judge erred by telling the jury that citing a worry about a hazard to the unborn child cannot be used to defend pregnancy discrimination. Of course, as we recently discussed in another pregnancy discrimination post, the Supreme Court has maintained that refusing to hire pregnant women because of concerns about their health or that of an unborn child is discrimination, but the appeals court in this case said the supervisor’s worries were not automatically discriminatory.

Because of these so-called juror instruction errors, the appeals court has sent the case back the county for a re-trial.

Source: Contra Costa Times, “Marin: Lucasfilm wins appeal of pregnancy discrimination suit; $1.2 million in fees vacated,” Gary Klien, Dec. 11, 2012

  • More information about employment law and employment rights are available on our Milwaukee law firm’s Employment Discrimination page.

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