Recent amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) increased protections for expectant mothers in the workplace. Prior to the most recent changes, which only went into effect at the beginning of this year, the Illinois General Assembly found that “current workplace laws are inadequate to protect pregnant workers from enjoying equal employment opportunities.” That may have been the exact experience for a number of pregnant school teachers, who have recently settled their employment discrimination lawsuits.
Eight women, all teachers in the same Chicago Public School, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court last year, alleging a pattern of discrimination against pregnant teachers. The teachers claimed Principal Mary Weaver at the Scammon Elementary school gave pregnant teachers lower performance evaluations, and threatened to fire them.
Pregnant workers are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended Title VII to prevent discrimination of employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
The eight teachers first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who investigated their case, but were unable to find a resolution, sending the case to the courts. Now, the Justice Department has announced that the lawsuit has been settled. The Chicago Board of Education will pay out $280,000 in compensation to the eight teachers.
In addition, under the terms of the settlement, the board must change personnel policies and establish new training requirements for staff and supervisors, in an effort to prevent discrimination in the workplace for pregnant teachers. The settlement does; however, provide that the school district admits no wrongdoing.
“Stronger policies and training to prevent pregnancy discrimination are critical to the economic security of women and their families”, said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. “Firing a woman because she is pregnant is simply against the law and EEOC remains committed to vigorous enforcement of the law.”
According to Julianne Bowman, director with the EEOC's Chicago district office, “The public school engaged in a pattern of firing teachers because of their pregnancies is dismaying to say the least. This settlement puts in place meaningful measures to eradicate the kind of antiquated thinking that resulted in the loss of these dedicated female educators.”
Under state law, pregnant women are now a protected class under the IHRA, giving them protection against job discrimination for reasons related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Pregnant workers are also to be given reasonable accommodations such as for increased bathroom breaks; seating; job restructuring; a part-time or modified work schedule; reassignment to a vacant position; time off to recover from conditions related to childbirth; light duty; or access to a private space to breastfeed or express milk.
If you or someone you know was fired, demoted, or otherwise retaliated against related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer may be violating state and federal civil rights laws. You should speak with an experienced attorney who understands pregnancy protections and employment discrimination cases. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve.