On July 27, 2007, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued Taylor v. Bigelow Management, Inc., et al., 2007 WL 2164282 (5th Cir. 2007), an opinion that should serve as a reminder to employers that pregnancy discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Taylor, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court jury trial in which the jury found that an employer was liable for pregnancy discrimination and awarded the plaintiff court costs plus approximately $10,000 for back pay and mental anguish and $50,000 in punitive damages.
For background purposes, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was an amendment to Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The amendment stated that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Title VII covers employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. Under Title VII, women who are pregnant or affected by related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.
The facts of the Taylor opinion help employers understand what acts could constitute pregnancy discrimination. In Taylor, the plaintiff was a regional manager with responsibility for two hotels. The plaintiff informed her supervisor that she was pregnant. The supervisor responded by commenting to the plaintiff that he was not the father. The supervisor then told the plaintiff a story about a pregnant employee who worked until her lunch break, gave birth during the break, and returned to work immediately thereafter. After the comment and the story, the supervisor asked the plaintiff what her intentions were regarding maternity leave. The supervisor later apologized to the plaintiff for making the comments, but, according to a trial witness who worked closely with the supervisor, around the same time the supervisor made the comments to the plaintiff, the supervisor commented to the witness that he did not think women were suitable for managerial positions because they become pregnant and miss too much work.
As noted above, the jury did not like the evidence in the record and entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The Fifth Circuit (the federal appeal court in which Louisiana sits) upheld the opinion. The opinion serves as a reminder to employers that pregnancy discrimination is unlawful and employers should treat employees with pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in the same manner as they would treat other employees with similar abilities and limitations.