The Wonderful Company Faces Pregnancy Discrimination Allegations

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Lynda Resnick is the 10th richest self-made woman in the United States. She is a pioneering entrepreneur, a prominent philanthropist, and an inspiration to women everywhere. She is also the co-owner of The Wonderful company and they’re currenting being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Despite the fact that she is a spokeswoman for women in the workplace fighting against stereotypes and hostile work cultures that are becoming less and less acceptable since the social change reflected by the #metoo movement in recent years, five former employees claim that Resnick is not a great example of glass-ceiling breakers.

One of the five former employees filed a pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against the company. The case is currently in private arbitration and comes only five years after the company resolved a lawsuit that stemmed from similar claims. The other four employees describe the company’s work culture as a hostile work environment particularly for pregnant women or working parents, but none of the four have sued or filed any complaints against the company. The Wonderful Company denies the claims being made by the five former employees.

Arbitration on the case started on November 12th. The employee alleging pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination was the former marketing director at The Wonderful Company. Fearful of retribution from future employers, the woman asked that her name be kept out of the press. She claims she was fired in 2016 during her maternity leave. She had planned 16 weeks of maternity leave to care for her newborn (as provided by California’s Family Rights Act or CFRA), but she was fired 12 weeks to the day after she started her maternity leave.

The federal FMLA or Family and Medical Leave Act covers 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for covered employers. Federal law also allows four additional weeks of unpaid leave if a doctor confirms that a mother is temporarily disabled in accordance with the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The former Marketing Director claims that her job was terminated on the exact day her FMLA expired and in California, employees are still covered under CFRA.

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace or if you were fired while you were on FMLA leave, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Fashion vs. Faith at Abercrombie and the Religious Discrimination Suit the Resulted

The U.S Supreme Court has announced that it will take its first hijab case to decide whether Abercrombie, the fashion retail chain, can deny employment to an otherwise qualified young woman who wished to wear a headscarf at work. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch started in 2008. A 17-year old woman named Samantha Elauf applied for a job at the Abercrombie Kids store at a mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Abercrombie sales associates are called “models” and they are expected, as part of their job, to look good. In fact, part of the job interview is a score on how you look. Once someone is hired, the newly hired “model” has to comply with the Abercrombie “look policy” governing their overall style and how they dress.

Elauf was aware of the general situation. She asked a friend before interviewing if she could be able to wear the hijab on the job. The friend, who knew the store’s assistant manager, was told that be expected the hijab would be fine as he has worked with someone who wore a yarmulke at Abercrombie. He did say that the look policy prohibited anything black so she would have to wear a scarf of a different color. Elauf thought that would be fine. She went to her interview (wearing what was described as “an Abercrombie like T-shirt and jeans” and her black hijab). She didn’t bring up religion or her religious reasons for wearing a headscarf. The interviewer didn’t bring it up either. The interviewers did outline other requirements of the look policy (nail polish and excessive makeup). Elauf did well in her job interview. She even got a 2 out of 3 for her appearance. Her tallied score was 6, which was normally a high enough score to “score” her the job.

After the interview, the interviewer asked her direct supervisor about the hijab. She was directed to the district manager. At that point, it was decided that the headscarf would be inconsistent with the look policy. The interviewer was told to drop Elauf’s appearance score from 2 out of 3 to 1 out of 3. This put her total at 5, which was one short of a job recommendation. Elauf did not get the job at Abercrombie.  

That’s when the EEOC sued Abercrombie for religious discrimination. It appeared to be an open and shut case and a federal district court judge decided summarily for the EEOC. Then the 10th Circuit reversed. In a split decision, the court didn’t send the issue to trial, but instead issued summary judgment for the retail store, Abercrombie & Fitch. The court reasoned that Elauf hadn’t told Abercrombie that she would require religious accommodation under the look policy in order to wear her hijab.

A dissenting judge, Ronald Reagan appointee David Ebel, pointed out that Elauf didn’t advise the store of the need for special religious accommodation because she had every reason to assume she wouldn’t need one. She was advised by her friend (who had consulted the assistant manager) that her hijab wouldn’t violate the look policy at the store as long as she wore any color other than black. On the other hand, Abercrombie, who was in a position to know that the hijab might be in violation of its policies, never brought the issue up with Elauf. They avoided the conversation.

It is unsure exactly how the Supreme Court will handle the issue as it could be seen as an example of why flexibility may be needed when circumstances warrant it, but the Supreme Court doesn’t generally take on cases without doing so to create a principle.

If you need additional information regarding discrimination in the workplace or a hostile work environment please contact the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. 

Examples of Employment Discrimination: Common Forms of Discrimination in the Workplace

The basic definition of employment discrimination is when an employee is treated unfavorably because of their race, their skin color, their disability, religion, age, gender, national origin, group affiliations, etc. Discrimination is illegal in any facet of employment. That means that the illegality of discrimination extends beyond simply hiring and firing practices.

Some common forms of discrimination in the workplace include:

 

  • Indicating a preference amongst candidates in a job advertisement
  • The exclusion of potential employees during recruitment
  • Discrimination when deciding upon promotion and lay-off candidates
  • Denial of the use of company facilities or the disruption of the use of common workplace facilities
  • Discrimination when assigning leave (maternity, disability, retirement options, etc.)
  • Denial of employee benefits due to discriminatory factors
  • Payment of equally experienced and qualified employees in the same position, performing the same job duties, different salaries

 

Employers who make assumptions based on race, gender, age, etc. are breaking the law. It’s also illegal for an employer to make assumptions regarding an employee’s capabilities because of disabilities. In addition, employers are prohibited from withholding opportunities on the job because of the employee’s relationship with someone of a certain race, age, ethnicity, etc. Discrimination sometimes comes in the form of harassment based on personal traits that are protected by the law.

Employers are required to inform all employees of their rights under EEOC laws, but if you need more information or if you have questions regarding its application to your workplace, contact the California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.