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Workplace Discrimination Update; Changing Landscape of Pregnant Worker Discrimination and Employer Designation

In a recent Supreme Court decision, the workplace discrimination field of Pregnancy Discrimination changed overnight. The Court in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. held that the burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas, which has applied to disparate treatment cases since 1973, is now applicable to Pregnancy Discrimination Act accommodation cases. The McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis can be broken down into three steps. First, the Plaintiff has to make his or her case by showing (i) that he or she is a member of a protected class, (ii) he/she applied (and was qualified for) an available position, (iii) despite being qualified, the Plaintiff was rejected, and (iv) the position remained available after the rejection and the employer continued to search for applicants with similar qualifications to Plaintiff.

Once the Plaintiff made his/her case, the burden then shifts to the Defendant employer who has to show the court that there was a legitimate and lawful reason for rejecting the Plaintiff. If the employer is able to accomplish that feat, the burden shifts back to the Plaintiff to show that employer’s reason was just a way to discriminate.

Therefore, this analysis is no longer only applicable to disparate treatment cases such as when the employer fails to promote, retaliates, or wrongfully terminates a worker. Now, the analysis extends to pregnancy workplace discrimination instances.

In another recent case, the California Supreme Court held that two entities can both be regarded as the employer for the same wrongful act. Here, the employing entities were the California Highway Patrol and the Orange County Transportation Authority. The Service Patrol Program aims to improve highway traffic by allowing local transportation agencies to contract with towing companies to help stranded cars. The California Highway Patrol manages the program by running the tow truck drivers background checks, training them, and coordinating their work.

In this case, one of these tow truck drivers rear-ended a driver on the I-5 freeway. The driver, Mayra Alvarado, suffered catastrophic brain injuries. Her attorney sued the tow truck driver, the Orange County Transportation Authority and the CHP. In reply, the CHP claimed that they are not the employer and thus should not be included in this lawsuit. However, this effort was rebuffed by the Judge who stated that there was a potential issue where the CHP may be considered a special employer and therefore that the CHP is to remain on the hook in this case.

The “special employment” doctrine has been in California for years. Under this doctrine, the injured plaintiff in the case above may sue both the employer of the tow trucks as well as the entity responsible for training and supervising the drivers. There are many other scenarios where this doctrine arises when our firm brings cases against California employers who violate labor codes. If you suffered discrimination, retaliation or bias in the workplace contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates to discuss your claim and legal options. See these other blogs on other forms of discrimination.