U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
St. Paul Dry Cleaner Unlawfully Fired Worker Because of Pregnancy, Agency Charged
MINNEAPOLIS – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that Chief Judge Michael J. Davis of U.S. District Court in Minneapolis has approved a consent decree settling a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC against White Way Cleaners for $42,250 and other relief. White Way is a dry cleaning company located in St. Paul, with store locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as pick-up and delivery service to the Twin Cities suburbs.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that White Way violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), by taking adverse action against a pregnant employee. Under the PDA, an employer is prohibited from taking action against women who are pregnant by refusing to hire them, transferring them, denying them a benefit of employment or firing them due to their pregnancy.
The EEOC alleged that White Way maintained a policy of transferring pregnant women from the dry cleaning plant to store positions. Michelle Johnson worked as a presser at White Way, and was transferred to a counter position in a store when she became pregnant. The EEOC alleged that Johnson was denied a raise while working in the counter position as a result of her transfer. Johnson became pregnant again, and within days of notifying White Way of her pregnancy, she was terminated.
“This was an important case for the EEOC because it underscores the clarity and strength of federal law regarding pregnancy discrimination,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney for the Chicago District, which includes Minnesota. “The U.S. Supreme Court held almost 20 years ago that an employer may not substitute its own judgment on an employee’s pregnancy for hers. The EEOC is dedicated to ensuring that women are not treated differently because they are or may become pregnant, and this case reminds employers of their obligations under the law.”
According to Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp, who supervised the EEOC’s litigation effort, the linchpin evidence in the agency’s case was the fact that White Way maintained a policy that discriminated against pregnant employees. Kamp said that the evidence clearly showed White Way had applied its discriminatory policy to Johnson.
Kamp added, “Such policies, even if well-intentioned, can’t justify discrimination.”
Under the decree approved yesterday, White Way will pay Johnson monetary damages of $42,250. The decree also contains an injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in further discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, as well as prohibiting retaliation against employees who exercise their rights under the federal civil rights laws relating to employment. White Way will be required to provide training to managers and employees and to report to the EEOC for the next two years.
The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed August 5, 2009, in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. (EEOC and Michelle Johnson v. White Way Cleaners, 09-cv-02048-MJD-JJG).
In addition to Hendrickson and Kamp, the EEOC was represented by Trial Attorney Jessica Palmer-Denig and Senior Trial Attorney Laurie Vasichek of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.