Posts Tagged ‘sex/gender discrimination’

In the case of Quinlan v. Elysian Hotel Co., the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently held that a former public relations director at a Chicago hotel who was fired after returning from maternity leave can pursue a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act based on comments allegedly made during her pregnancy.  The comments allegedly included a statement made by a female decisionmaker regarding it being difficult to balance work and be a “good mother.”

The court found that the alleged comment about it being difficult to balance work and be a good mother coupled with another comment about the employee being able to return to the public relations field “later in life” sufficient enough circumstantial evidence for a jury to find that discrimination may have influenced the hotel’s decision to fire the former employee.  In addition to the aforementioned comments, the plaintiff also alleged that during a shared cab ride another decisionmaker at the hotel told her that it was not a big deal if she did not want to return to work after her baby was born and that staying at home was a sacrifice she should make for her family.  Allegedly, that decisionmaker then proceeded to tell the plaintiff about the childcare difficulties that he and his wife faced as they started their own family.

After these comments were allegedly made, the hotel encountered financial difficulties and examined what positions it could eliminate.  It was suggested that the plaintiff’s position was not needed and her position was eliminated, which resulted in her termination.  Thereafter, the employee sued her former employer and the hotel moved to have the lawsuit dismissed through a summary judgment motion.

In denying the hotel’s summary judgment motion, the court found that although many of the alleged discriminatory comments were made during the former employee’s pregnancy, her claim really fell under the umbrella of sex/gender discrimination based on her status as a new mother.  In other words, the court said that the plaintiff seemed to be arguing that she was fired due to her supervisor’s illegal gender-stereotyping and assumption that women who are new mothers are not able to remain committed to their work and are better off staying at home with a young child.  The court found that although much time elapsed between the allegedly biased comments and the employment decision, thereby reducing the probative force of the remarks, a jury might find it acceptable, given the time lag for time off to give birth and potentially further maternity leave.  In any event, the court found that the former employee presented facts upon which a reasonable jury might find that the hotel discriminated against her based upon its view that new mothers cannot (or are less able to) do the job.

This case serves as a good example how employers should be careful ever careful not to make comments that may later be viewed as discriminatory and to train their supervisors/decisionmakers to avoid such pitfalls.  The employment and labor law attorneys at Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with such training.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Posted in Labor & Employment, Pregnancy Discrimination, Sex discrimination | No Comments »