Employer Pays $100,000 After Firing Just-Hired Pregnant Applicant

By Maria Greco Danaher Jun 28, 2017
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​Want a road map on how not to react to a successful applicant who announces her pregnancy immediately after receiving an offer letter? Look at the behavior of an employer in Florida that recently settled a legal claim on that issue.

In early 2015, Nicole Purcell applied for an entry-level position with brokerage firm Brown & Brown in Daytona, Fla. She successfully made it through multiple rounds of interviews, and the company offered her a job.

Upon receiving the offer, Purcell called the company's employee services coordinator to accept and asked about maternity benefits, announcing that she was pregnant.

Within 30 minutes of the call, the coordinator sent an e-mail to Purcell stating that the company was rescinding the job offer because it needed somebody in the position "long term."

Purcell filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In July 2016, the EEOC filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

The parties recently resolved their differences by entering into a two-year consent decree, with the company agreeing to pay Purcell $100,000 in damages.

Besides the payment term, the consent decree includes provisions requiring Brown & Brown to:

  • Take affirmative steps to avoid pregnancy discrimination in the future.
  • Create and adopt a pregnancy discrimination policy (to be submitted for approval to the EEOC).
  • Distribute copies of the policy to every employee and manager and to every applicant.
  • Provide two hours of in-person training on gender discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination, to every manager involved in the hiring process.
  • Retain, at the company's cost, a "subject matter expert" (to be agreed upon by the EEOC) on sex discrimination to conduct those sessions.
  • Provide to nonmanagers one hour of video or webinar training on the same topic.
  • Make yearly reports to the EEOC for two years regarding further complaints of pregnancy discrimination, if any.
  • Post a notice of the consent decree at the facility.
  • Retain all documents and data related to compliance with the consent decree.

All of this could have been avoided had the company engaged in an interactive conversation with Purcell regarding any limitations she might have developed related to her pregnancy and whether any limitations that would have affected her ability to do her job could have been accommodated.

EEOC v. Brown & Brown of Florida Inc., M.D. Fla., No. 6:16-cv-1326-Orl-37DCI (consent decree signed May 3, 2017).

Professional Pointer: The moral of the story is clear, and the list of employer do's and don'ts is short:

  • Don't assume that a pregnant employee is unable to do the job or will be absent for a lengthy period.
  • Do document any discussions with applicants who raise the issue of pregnancy to ensure that issues raised are appropriately addressed.
  • Do ask for and document specifics of any accommodation or job modification requested to ensure that all issues are addressed.
  • Do ensure compliance with all federal and state laws regarding pregnancy leaves.
  • Don't forget about postpartum issues, which also require compliance with federal and state laws.

Maria Greco Danaher is an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Pittsburgh.

 

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