Baby Bumps Behind the Bar: Discrimination Against Pregnant Bartenders

By: Jacqueline Vega

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) continues to fight hard for pregnant women in Title VII cases against their employers. Title VII was amended by the Pregnancy Disability Act to include the prohibition of sex discrimination based on pregnancy.[1] In 2015, the EEOC even updated its enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination, in order to better inform employers and better protect employees before a claim must be filed.[2] The updated guidance question and answer section states, “even when an employer believes it is acting in an employee’s best interest, adverse actions based on assumptions or stereotypes are prohibited.”[3]

Recently, the EEOC has filed Title VII claims on behalf of pregnant women alleging they were fired from bartending jobs because they were pregnant.[4] In February, Virginia Miller-Rivera filed suit against Eddie Jr.’s Sports Lounge in Brooklyn, New York, for firing her after working only ten days as a bartender, allegedly because she revealed that she was two months pregnant.[5] She further claimed that her boss said she was ultimately fired because he and his partners feared something could go wrong with her pregnancy while she was working, and that they might be held legally liable.[6] Now, they may be liable for discrimination, not for endangering a pregnant employee. Miller-Rivera is also suing Eddie Jr.’s and her boss under the New York City Human Rights Law.[7] Though the court has not yet decided Miller-Rivera v. Eddie Jr.’s Sports Lounge, Inc., past decisions and EEOC guidance may push the court to rule in favor of the pregnant employee.[8] For example, in Alger v. Prime Restaurant Management, Inc., the court awarded two employees over $400,000 combined, after the defendant fired them for being pregnant.[9]

The EEOC has sued and recovered damages for many pregnant women who were in similar situations.[10] In EEOC v. Moonshine Group, L.L.C., the EEOC recovered over $66,000 from a bar in Tempe, Arizona, for firing a female bartender after learning that she was pregnant.[11] In EEOC v. WBS Broad Ripple, Inc., the EEOC recovered about $45,000 from a bar in Indianapolis for firing a female bartender/server after learning that she was pregnant.[12] Both of these cases were settled,[13] which strengthens the possibility that Miller-Rivera v. Eddie Jr.’s Sports Lounge, Inc. will similarly be settled in favor of the employee.

The EEOC continuously makes an effort to inform employers of various alternatives to firing a female employee that becomes pregnant, in order to prevent a Title VII claim from being brought against them.[14] In the EEOC’s updated guidance question and answer section, the agency lists out some reasonable accommodations that a pregnant employee may need.[15] For example, the employer may reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee by: “modifying workplace policies, such as allowing a pregnant worker more frequent breaks . . . or modifying equipment, such as a stool for a pregnant employee who needs to sit while performing job tasks typically performed while standing . . . temporarily reassigning an employee to a light duty position.”[16] These suggestions can help mitigate an employer’s worries about a pregnant bartender behind the bar. Title VII claims are considered on a case-by-case basis,[17] but case precedent and the numerous guidelines that have been made available can help employee-plaintiffs, including Ms. Miller-Rivera, prevail in such cases.

 

[1] See The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/pregnancy.cfm (last visited Mar. 19, 2017).

[2] See Enforcement Guidance: Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (June 2015), https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm.

[3] Questions and Answers About the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (June 2015), https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm.

[4] See Patrick Dorrian, Brooklyn Sports Bar Sued for Firing Bartender, Bloomberg BNA’s Employment Discrimination Report (Feb. 8, 2017), http://0-news.bna.com.libweb.hofstra.edu/edln/display/alpha.adp?mode=topics&letter=H&frag_id=105217011&item=3203&prod=edln.

[5] Miller-Rivera v. Eddie Jr.’s Sports Lounge, Inc., No. 00765 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 1, 2017).

[6] Id.

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] Alger v. Prime Restaurant Management, Inc., 2016 WL 3741984, slip op. (N.D. Ga. July 13, 2016).

[10] See Dorian, supra note 4.

 

[11] EEOC v. Moonshine Group, L.L.C., 2016 WL 3552982 (D.Ariz. Apr. 2016) (Verdict and Settlement Summary).

[12] EEOC v. WBS Broad Ripple, Inc., No. 00373 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 12, 2011).

[13] See Dorian, supra note 4.

 

[14] See Enforcement Guidance and Related Documents, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement_guidance.cfm (last visited Mar. 19, 2017).

[15] Questions and Answers About the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (June 2015), https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm.

[16] Id.

[17] See Selected Supreme Court Decisions, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/supreme_court.html (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

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