A federal judge has ordered a Milwaukee medical staffing company to pay $148,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC’s suit charged that owner of HCS Medical Staffing, Inc. discriminated against Roxy Leger, the company’s bookkeeper, in violation of federal law, when he made offensive comments about her pregnancy and fired her because she needed to take maternity leave following the birth of her son .
Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. HCS Medical Staffing, Inc., Civ. 11-CV-402) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in April 2011, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
After HCS failed to respond to a court order to retain an attorney, the court entered a default judgment against the company on Feb. 17, 2012. The court ordered the employer to pay Roxy Leger back pay plus pre-judgment interest in the sum of $48,340; compensatory damages in the sum of $50,000; and punitive damages amounting to $50,000; totaling $148,340 in damages against HCS Medical Staffing.
Judge J.P. Stadtmueller found that the “circumstances leading up to HCS’s discriminatory termination of Leger were inherently humiliating and caused Leger substantial emotional distress. The circumstances surrounding Leger’s notification of termination were equally degrading.”
The judge found that HCS’s owner, Charles Sisson, referred to Leger’s pregnancy as a joke; insisted that maternity leave should last no more than a couple of days; suggested that Leger’s pre-natal appointments were a ruse for additional time off or for money; and gave Leger an offensive graphic diagram of a machine which would allegedly allow Leger to return from her maternity leave sooner. With no prior warning or discipline, HCS terminated Leger’s employment and health insurance while she was still in the hospital recovering from a Caesarean section. Leger learned of her termination days later by certified mail.
In addition to the monetary relief, the judge ordered that HCS Medical Staffing be permanently enjoined from engaging in any further pregnancy discrimination.
“The conduct at issue in this case was deplorable,” said EEOC Regional Attorney John Hendrickson. “Pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination. It is flatly prohibited by law. Working to stop it remains a high priority for the EEOC.”
Hendrickson noted the Commission held a meeting on Feb. 15, 2012, in Washington, in which the Commissioners heard testimony that unlawful discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities remains a widespread problem.