Can My Employer Refuse to Assign Me Work Because of My Pregnancy?

Many New York employers view pregnant employees as an inconvenience rather than as individuals entitled to respect and equal treatment in the workplace. Fortunately, a host of employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, do not afford such employers the luxury of depriving pregnant women of their ability to earn a living. Illegal discrimination does not just include firing or refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant. It also means an employer cannot disfavor or deny a pregnant employee the opportunity to perform work assignments she is otherwise qualified for and capable of completing.

Judge Rules Substitute Teacher can Proceed With Lawsuit Against Brooklyn School

For example, a federal judge in Manhattan recently ruled that a substitute teacher in the New York City public school system could proceed with her sex and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the Board of Education after she was allegedly denied teaching assignments due to her pregnancy.

The facts of the case are briefly these. The plaintiff received her substitute teacher's license in 2008. She proceeded to work as a substitute teacher for a number of schools in Queens. Within several months she was hired to work as a substitute teacher at P.S. 25 in Brooklyn.

About 15 months into her tenure at P.S. 25, the plaintiff learned she was pregnant. When the following school year began, the plaintiff said the school's principal informed her that she would not be given any further substitute teaching assignments “because the school did not want to be liable for any injury” the plaintiff might sustain as a result of continuing to work. Subsequent to the principal's alleged statement, the plaintiff said the school's assistant principal then intervened to prevent her from substituting for a first-grade teacher who had requested her.

The Board of Education and the P.S. 25 officials have denied these allegations. In a motion for summary judgment, the defense argued that the principal's “stray remark” regarding the school's potential liability was not enough to prove illegal sex or pregnancy discrimination. The judge presiding over the case disagreed and denied the motion. The court noted that far from being a trivial statement, the principal allegedly issued “a command” that led the assistant principal to take adverse employment action against the plaintiff.

The judge also rejected the Board's argument that by the very nature of a substitute teacher's position, the plaintiff was never guaranteed any specific amount of work assignments. That was not the point, the court noted, since under federal sex discrimination law any “discretionary decisions … can qualify as adverse employment actions if they are made on a discriminatory basis.” In plain English, if the plaintiff's sex or pregnancy played any role in whether she received an otherwise discretionary teaching assignment, that would constitute discrimination.

Pregnant and a Victim of Workplace Discrimination? We can Help

Working while dealing with pregnancy is difficult enough. The last thing any woman should have to suffer is illegal discrimination on the part of ignorant supervisors who think the law somehow does not apply to them. If you have been the victim of any form of sex or pregnancy discrimination and need advice from a qualified New York employment attorney on what steps to take next, contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP. at (646) 760-6493 today.


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