PHOENIX - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced it has settled a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, for $220,000 in damages and other relief for its failure to hire a female applicant due to her pregnancy.
Under the Consent Decree filed in Arizona District Court (EEOC v. WalMart CIV 94-465 TUC WDB), Wal-Mart will pay nearly a quarter million dollars to Ms. Jamey Stern and engage in comprehensive training concerning the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, in lieu of a further trial on the issue of punitive damages. The EEOC filed this lawsuit in 1994 alleging that Wal-Mart refused to rehire Jamey Stern at their Green Valley, Arizona, store because she told them she was pregnant in November of 1991. The litigation was subjected to repeated trials and appeals before all issues were finally resolved.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Stern was told by the Assistant Manager to "come back after she had the baby," after informing him that she was pregnant. Ms. Stern was not aware that refusing to hire someone because they are pregnant is against the law until she read an article in a magazine in her doctor's office. She then filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and the Arizona Civil Rights Division. The EEOC investigated the case and filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Stern after its efforts to reach a voluntary negotiated settlement proved futile.
Mary Jo O'Neill , the Regional Attorney for the Phoenix District Office lauded the settlement, "Sometimes employers don't take pregnancy discrimination as seriously as other kinds of discrimination. It is illegal to refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant. This settlement confirms that the EEOC will not tolerate pregnancy discrimination."
Ms. Stern, the charging party, said, "This 11-year struggle has proven that one person can truly make a difference and I owe a million thanks to many individuals at the EEOC for making that possible. I am proud to have been a part of a process that has restored my faith in my determination to assert my rights, even in the face of such an adversary as Wal-Mart. I'm confident that many will benefit from this effort and become educated concerning their own rights and learn that they have the ability and resources available to assert and protect those rights."
In 1997, a jury found that Wal-Mart intentionally refused to rehire Ms. Stern because she was pregnant. However, the issue of punitive damages was not allowed to go to the jury in that trial. The EEOC appealed that decision. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the District Court to be retried on the issue of punitive damages, which are money damages designed to punish the wrong doing employer and deter other employers from engaging in discrimination. The issue of punitive damages was tried to a jury in 2000, but again evidence pertinent to Wal-Mart's actions and to the question of punitive damages was withheld from the jury. The case was again appealed and the Ninth Circuit, which once more sent the case back to the District Court with explicit directions that the jury was to be told that Wal-Mart fabricated a number of facts during the investigation and initial trial.
Sally C. Shanley, the EEOC Trial Attorney remarked, "It is very satisfying to be a part of this settlement as it sends a message both to employers and employees that there is recourse for discrimination in the workplace and that the Commission will persist in seeking justice."
Charles Burtner, EEOC's Phoenix District Director, which has jurisdiction over Arizona and Utah, said: "We are very pleased with the resolution of this case. We take the Pregnancy Discrimination Act very seriously. The Phoenix Office of the EEOC has seen a significant increase in charges of pregnancy discrimination over the last 10 years, mirroring a national trend."
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. In addition to prohibiting sex-based discrimination, Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; the Equal Pay Act; and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further information about the Commission is available online at www.eeoc.gov.