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TURNING EMPLOYER WRONGS INTO EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

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Pressure on the Pregnant from Pier 1

It Doesn’t Pay to be Pregnant at Pier 1.

Literally.

An employee has filed suit in the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County against the home decorations store for violations of pregnancy leave laws related to her experiences there this year.

Kimberly Erin Caselman had worked for the company for approximately 2 years as a part time employee, averaging about 18 hours per week.  When she became pregnant she let her employer know.  At first things were fine, but as her pregnancy progressed, Kimberly visited her doctor who placed her on restricted duty.  She was not allowed to lift more than 15 pounds at a time or climb ladders.

Pier 1 apparently has a practice of placing pregnant workers on ‘light duty’ for a period of 8 weeks, as an accommodation.  While on the surface, this may seem like a reasonable accommodation, and one that is actually required by law, when you realize what happens after the 8 weeks period, you’ll see why Kimberly filed suit.

In November the company let Kimberly know that she had been approved for the 8 weeks of light duty.  When that time expired in January, she was informed by the human resources department that she would be placed on UNPAID PREGNANCY LEAVE until the birth of her baby.

Ms. Caselman tried to discuss the situation with the human resources department head, but was told that this was company policy and that the most they could allow was the 8 weeks of light duty.  Ms. Caselman informed them that she was perfectly capable of continuing to work, with only a few simple accommodations, i.e. not lifting more than 15 pounds or going up and down ladders.

She was ignored and placed on unpaid leave.  That leave is set to expire this month, which means that Caselman will have to return to work, without restrictions, until her baby is born in July, or face the possibility of being terminated.

In addition, the company would, at this point be able to assert that Caselman had already used most of the leave to which she is legally entitled under California law.  Once her baby is born, in July, she will have little or no leave time left to spend with the child.

Though her supplemental income isn’t an enormous amount, and while her husband does work full time, the loss of income has severely affected the small family.

The law in California is one of the leading examples of protections for pregnant women in the country.  It specifically requires employers to make reasonable accommodations when they are requested by an employee at the urging of their doctor.  In addition, it forbids employers from placing pregnant workers on unpaid leave involuntarily, especially when all they need are light restrictions as in this case.

Federal (Family Medical Leave Act) and California law (codified as the California Family Rights Act) is quite clear on the topic of pregnancy-related issues and how employers must deal with them.  The current versions of the law are quite similar and treat pregnancy as it would any other disability, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations where available and necessary at the request of the employee.  It also provides for leave, but that leave cannot be forced on employees who are capable of working with the aid of the above-mentioned restrictions.  The FMLA offers leave for pregnant workers because of pregnancy-related disability before the birth of the child of up to 12 weeks.  The CFRA and the FMLA both offer 12 weeks of leave after the birth of the child for bonding, child care, and health conditions.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act, another one of the main California laws prohibiting discrimination, does, like the FMLA, afford leaves for women who are experiencing pregnancy-related conditions that require them to take a leave.

The case filed by Kimberly Caselman was initiated as a class action, but at the time of the writing of this article, she was the only class member.  Hopefully, other employees who were treated similarly come forward over the course of the next few months so that California courts can send Pier 1 (a Texas company) a clear message…that we will not allow them to treat pregnant employees in such a discriminatory manner.

If you feel that you have been the subject of pregnancy discrimination, or any other type of discrimination, contact Stephen Danz & Associates today to request a free consultation via our toll free number (877) 789-9707, or use the Contact Form on our website.  Stephen and one of his associates will meet with you in a location that is convenient to your work, school or home, as he regularly travels the state from San Diego to Northern California, meeting with clients and attending court hearings and settlement conferences.

Stephen Danz & Associates has been defending the rights of California workers for more than 35 years and has the experience, dedication, and aggressiveness to help you achieve the largest possible award or settlement.