Eight women will split $280,000 in a payout of damages and backpay from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system after claiming they were discriminated against because they got pregnant.
At the end of last year, the federal government filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education claiming that it had discriminated against pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary School by firing and disciplining them after they announced their pregnancies. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) suit said that beginning in 2009, the school’s principal fired and threatened to fire pregnant teachers, with six firings of recently pregnant teachers approved by the board and two other women forced to leave. It also said he gave them poorer performance evaluations. A previous lawsuit from the DOJ alleging pregnancy discrimination was settled in 2009, with CPS agreeing to pay $45,000 to a former teacher.
In response to the 2014 lawsuit, CPS had denied that the principal targeted pregnant teachers and said that the decisions to fire them were “legitimate, job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
In the agreement announced on Wednesday, CPS won’t have to admit to any wrongdoing. But beyond the monetary payment, the school board will have to meet a variety of other requirements. It will be required to send quarterly reports to the government about every pregnancy discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation complaint that gets made by a school employee. The agreement also requires it to conduct training sessions and review its nondiscrimination policy.
Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that the board had taken “an important step toward ensuring that no woman loses her job, faces discipline or endures threats because of her pregnancy.” She also said, “Our settlement establishes critical measures to provide a workplace environment free from sex-based discrimination.”
“Chicago Public Schools is fully committed to promoting inclusive work environments free of discrimination or mistreatment,” a CPS spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are taking steps to bolster training and policy awareness to ensure every school and office in CPS is a welcoming environment.” A federal judge still has to formally approve the settlement in a court hearing scheduled for January.
The news comes on the heels of another, if smaller, victory for a victim of pregnancy discrimination. On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reinstated a discrimination lawsuit against an orthodontic clinic filed by a woman who said her job offer was rescinded after she told the employer that she was two months pregnant and hoped to take 12 weeks of maternity leave. The case has been sent back to a lower court to determine the damages owed to the plaintiff.
Under current law, it’s illegal to discriminate against a potential or current employee based on her pregnancy. But it still regularly happens. Pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) increased from over 3,900 in 1997 to more than 5,000 in 2013, outpacing the influx of women into the workforce. Employers have fired pregnant women with excuses such as that a pregnancy will make them “move too slow,” that they should “stay home” and take care of their pregnancies, and even just because of a blanket “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy.
But while there have been some high-profile victories, such as the record-breaking $185 million payout to a former AutoZone employee who claimed she was demoted and fired for being pregnant, they are less common. About 60 percent of the charges filed with the EEOC end up with a finding of no reasonable cause.