HOUSTON, TEXAS – As per the National Law Review on May 19, 2015, in the decision against United Bible Fellowship Ministries, Inc. (“United Bible”) for pregnancy discrimination, United States District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore awarded Ms. Sharmira Johnson, who was terminated by United Bible for becoming pregnant, $24,764, which consisted of overtime with interest, out-of-pocket costs, and back pay. The court also awarded her $50,000 for her emotional suffering as punitive damages because of United Bible’s “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy. This policy refused employment to pregnant applicants and required the firing of employees who became pregnant, which is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement as part of their conciliation process. The situation could not be resolved via conciliation, as United Bible refused to admit that their “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy violated Title VII, so the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Civil Action No. 4:13-cv-2871).
United Bible, a non-profit Houston Home and Community Services Organization, defended their policy as legally justifiable because they sought to make certain of the safety of an unborn child, the mother’s safety, and the safety of United Bible’s residents. United Bible admitted that Ms. Johnson performed her job competently and did not have any health problems that would preclude her from continuing to work, and admitted that the only reason they discharged Ms. Johnson was because she became pregnant.
United Bible’s “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy also violated their funding contract with the Texas Department on Aging and Disability Services to provide housing and residential care to clients with disabilities, which required United Bible to comply with anti-discrimination laws as a condition of receiving a funding contract.
Ms. Johnson was represented by Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, EEOC senior trial attorney, who was quoted as saying, “This decision is another in a long line of federal court cases rejecting employer policies based on assumptions and stereotypes about a pregnant woman’s inability to work. Employers cannot impose paternalistic and unsubstantiated views on the alleged dangers of pregnancy to exclude all pregnant women from employment.”
EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher was quoted as saying, “All employers, even non-profits, are required by federal law to ensure equal access to job opportunities for all, regardless of sex, race, religion, national origin, age or disability.”