A New York Judge has dismissed a U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission Pregnancy – Discrimination Class
Action based on Work-Life Balance Theory.
In 2006, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
("EEOC") adopted its Systemic Initiative. This Initiative
makes the identification, investigation, and litigation of systemic
discrimination cases – pattern and practice, policy,
and/or class cases where the alleged discrimination has a broad
impact on an industry, profession, company, or geographic area
– a top priority. The Systemic Initiative also seeks to
ensure that the EEOC has a coordinated, strategic, and effective
approach to such cases.
When the EEOC makes a finding of systemic discrimination and
efforts to secure voluntary compliance fail, it may choose to file
suit to enforce the law. In 2011, the Commission filed 23 lawsuits
with at least 20 known or expected class members. This comprises
nine percent of all merit filings by the EEOC, and is the largest
volume of systemic lawsuit filings since tracking started in
A recent example of such a lawsuit is EEOC v. Bloomberg
L.P.1 In this case, the EEOC filed a lawsuit
against Bloomberg L.P. on behalf of a class of female employees who
worked for the company between February 2, 2002, and March 31,
2009, and claimed they were discriminated against because they were
pregnant or took maternity leave during that time.
The Judge in the case ruled that the EEOC failed to demonstrate
that the employer had engaged in a pattern or practice of
discrimination against pregnant employees or those who had returned
from maternity leave in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act. Judge Loretta Preska ruled the EEOC presented insufficient
evidence of discrimination in its lawsuit, which she found was
based on a theory of "work-life balance." According to
Judge Preska, the law does not require companies to ignore
employees' work-family tradeoffs when deciding about employee
pay and promotions. The law simply requires fair treatment of all
In her opinion, the Judge specifically noted that the anecdotal
evidence presented by the Commission could not overcome the
company's statistical evidence. Bloomberg's statistical
evidence showed the company's "standard operating
procedure was to treat pregnant employees who took leave similarly
to any employee who took significant time away from work for
whatever reason." Moreover, the experts reported that
employees in the plaintiff-class received higher average and median
growth in their compensation packages than those who took
In denying summary judgment, Judge Preska echoed a number of
other themes from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v.
Dukes.2 In Dukes, the Supreme Court took
notice of the fact that Wal-Mart had a policy against sex
discrimination and that Wal-Mart imposed penalties for denials of
equal employment opportunity. Similarly, Judge Preska observed that
Bloomberg provided its managers with formal training about
compensation decisions, including specific admonitions not to
discriminate on the basis of pregnancy.
While the employees in Bloomberg were ultimately
unsuccessful in their lawsuit, the sheer volume of these types of
cases indicates that this will not always be the case. As such,
U.S. employers must be vigilant as to any discrimination charge
brought before the EEOC or a similar state agency, especially where
there is any chance that a class could be eventually named.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
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