U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Agency Said Manager Refused to Hire an Applicant Because She Was Pregnant
PHOENIX – In a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal judge ruled yesterday that a Phoenix Subway fast-food restaurant violated federal law when it refused to hire a female job applicant because she was pregnant.
According to the EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. High Speed Enterprise, Inc, dba Subway, CV-08-01789-PHX-ROS), Belinda Murillo applied for a position at a Subway in Central Phoenix in May 2006. Later that month, when Murillo returned to check on the status of her application, the general manager told her, “You’re pregnant. We can’t hire you.” The general manager admitted in sworn testimony that he had made that statement.
Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. The EEOC filed suit against the Subway’s owner, Phoenix-based Highspeed, Inc., after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Chief Judge Roslyn O. Silver for U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona agreed with the EEOC’s position. According to Judge Silver’s ruling, “A plaintiff may establish her case through direct or circumstantial evidence … Direct evidence is evidence, which if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was at least a motivating factor in the employer’s actions … [the EEOC] has provided direct evidence of discrimination.”
The case will now go to a jury trial on damages. The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and appropriate injunctive relief.
“The court agreed with the EEOC, without the need to go to a jury trial, that Subway engaged in intentional sex and pregnancy discrimination,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “The court found that the defendant failed to offer any legal explanation as to why Murillo’s application was denied. Now we will pursue fair damages for this discrimination victim.”
EEOC trial attorney Nancy Griffiths said, “We are pleased with the court’s decision. Pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent problem in the 21st century workplace. Employers cannot refuse to hire women simply because they are pregnant, and women should never be forced to choose between motherhood and their livelihood, especially in these difficult economic times.”
EEOC District Director Rayford Irvin added, “The EEOC would like to remind employers that pregnancy discrimination has been illegal for decades, and violations of the law will be met with rigorous enforcement by our agency.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.