HOUSTON - JC Wings Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Bayou City Wings, a Baytown-based restaurant chain, violated federal law when its managers laid off pregnant employees under a discriminatory policy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Maryann Castillo and other female workers were laid off after the third month of their pregnancies under a written policy, set out in Bayou City Wings' employee handbook. Bayou City Wings owns and operates restaurants in Baytown, Houston and surrounding areas. The company's district manager laid off Castillo pursuant to the policy even though she had provided a doctor's note that indicated she could work up to the 36th week of her pregnancy and that her doctor had not placed any restrictions on her ability to work.
During the EEOC's investigation of a discrimination charge brought by Castillo, Bayou City Wings named eight female employees who were laid off from work because of their pregnancies. According to a Bayou City Wings general store manager, for a manager to keep a pregnant employee at work any longer would "be irresponsible in respect to her child's safety" and would jeopardize his position with the company "for not following procedures."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex or pregnancy. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:12-cv-02885) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks an injunction, back pay with pre-judgment interest, reinstatement or front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, in amounts to be determined at trial
"Federal law protects the right of a woman to remain gainfully employed during her pregnancy," stated Martin Ebel, deputy district director and acting district director for the EEOC's Houston District Office. "An employer cannot dictate, out of a desire to protect a pregnant employee or for any other reason, whether a female employee continues to work during her pregnancy."
Jim Sacher, the EEOC's regional attorney in Houston, explained, "The Supreme Court has made clear that the decision whether a pregnant woman should work rests solely with her. She alone, and not the employer, is responsible for making decisions that affect her safety and that of her child. An employer's policy which forces leave on a pregnant employee is exactly the type of conduct the Supreme Court has found to be unlawful."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC and the laws it enforces is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.