Protecting Employee & Consumer Rights

Firing an employee for being pregnant and unmarried is illegal

Kourtney Liggins worked as an eighth-grade teacher for 5 years at the Transfiguration School, a religious-run school in Los Angeles. Liggins was unmarried and seven months pregnant when her boss told her that her “pregnancy would morally corrupt impressionable teenagers” at the school. Her boss referred to her unborn child as “it” and said that “it” would not be permitted on the school campus. When Liggins complained to school officials she was told to “pray on it.” The school also barred her boyfriend, the father of her unborn child, from participating in a school meeting, and ultimately banned him from school grounds.

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When Liggins gave birth, she was ordered to cut her maternity leave short or be fired. When she got back to work, her pay was cut and she was excluded from important staff meetings. Even though she had a history of exemplary performance reviews, her boss suddenly produced a packet of complaint letters about her pregnancy and performance. The letters were undated, anonymous, and were more than a year old. She was later informed by the father of one of her students that her boss had offered to forgive the man’s debt to the school if in return he would complain about Liggins’ performance.

When Liggins complained to management and the director of human resources, they refused to take action. Instead, school officials retaliated against her by falsely accusing her of tardiness and using her cell phone in class. Using these allegations as an excuse, the school fired her.

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Liggins sued her employer for wrongful termination.

Pregnancy discrimination is defined as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Prohibited conduct includes firing, demoting, harassing, retaliating, refusing health benefits, denying promotion, and denying medical leave.

Pregnancy (and all its related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth) is considered a temporary disability. The employer must therefore give pregnant employees the same treatment and benefits that it gives to employees with other temporary disabilities.

 

Discriminated pregnant employees may recover the following remedies: back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages, including emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, and other applicable remedies. Aggrieved employees may also recover attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.

Liggins’ case went to trial, where a jury found in her favor. The jury found that she was wrongfully terminated and that her employer’s actions constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress. She was awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $3,575,306 and punitive damages in the amount of $87,000 for a total verdict of $3,662,306. In regard to the compensatory damages, $171,114 was in past economic loss, $104,192 in future economic loss, and $3,300,000 in emotional distress damages.

The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.comor our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award, and is aPresidential Awardee for Outstanding FilipinoOverseas in 2018.]

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TAGS: California labor law, employee rights, pregnancy, unwed mothers, workplace discrimination, wrongful termination
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