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Pregnancy discrimination: AutoZone verdict put employers on notice

AutoZone Auto Parts has several of its more than 6,000 stores nationally in the Milwaukee area. Several years ago, the giant car parts retailer was hit with a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit after a woman was demoted after announcing to co-workers that she was pregnant. She was then fired from her AutoZone job after she filed the suit.

A federal jury later awarded her $185 million in punitive damages (designed to punish a wrongdoer) in addition to $872,000 in compensatory damages (designed to compensate for lost wages, medical bills, etc.).

The damages in that case were unusually large, and the jury's message was perhaps even larger: it is unlawful and unethical to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy. If a company does it, they will be held accountable.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids this type of behavior by employers in all aspects of employment, including:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Pay
  • Promotions
  • Training
  • Job assignments
  • Layoffs
  • Benefits (including leave and health insurance)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says "If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee."

That can mean light duties, leave, alternative assignments, etc.

It also means employers can't demote or fire workers simply because they are pregnant. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who file a pregnancy discrimination complaint or lawsuit.

The employment law attorneys at the law offices of Alan C. Olson & Associates protect workplace rights across the Milwaukee area. Contact us to schedule a consultation by video conference or phone.

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