Pregnancy discrimination

SALT LAKE CITY — A Davis County woman alleges she was fired after a boss complained about her “bad days” during pregnancy.

In a discrimination suit filed Nov. 14 in U.S. District Court, Liberty Lester charged that she was first counseled, then suspended, then fired within a span of a week following her complaint that co-workers were harassing her due to her pregnancy.

After a co-worker told her he did not think she was capable of doing her assigned tasks, she told a supervisor, according to the suit, describing alleged events at Bridge House, a residential treatment center in Farmington for mental health and substance addiction patients.

Two days later, a manager, James Healey, gave her a written warning alleging she was insubordinate and had acted unprofessionally and discourteously with co-workers, the suit said.

Lester was a psychiatric technician at the center until she was fired Aug. 24, 2018.

The manager said he had been compiling complaints against her but “he did not want to bring these allegations to her because she was pregnant,” Lester alleged.

He expressed concern that her alleged performance issues “were due to her having ‘bad days’ because of her pregnancy,” the suit said.

In a written response to the warning, Lester said the next day that “she felt management’s failure to bring complaints to her in a timely manner was because of the discriminatory assumption that her pregnancy might cause some ‘bad days.’”

Later that day, after she told Healey she was being discriminated against, Lester was suspended.

That evening, she posted on Facebook, “I’m grateful for the appalling amount of workplace discrimination I have encountered being pregnant ... because now I know, in fact, it still exists.”

Two days later, Lester said, she was fired and told it was because of the Facebook post.

The manager said the post “was not good for Bridge House’s reputation,” the suit said. But Lester protested that she did not identify the treatment center in the post and that her Facebook profile did not list the company as her employer.

The dismissal deprived her of Family and Medical Leave Act benefits and the company also did not send her a notice that would have allowed her to obtain continued coverage of her medical insurance plan through the birth of her daughter, the suit said.

The suit seeks monetary damages including $50,000 in compensation for Lester’s subsequent medical bills. It also said Bridge House is liable for a federal statutory penalty of up to $110 per day during the time she had not received the insurance notice.

Key grounds for the suit are the employer’s alleged pregnancy and gender violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In court documents filed Thursday, attorneys for Bridge House and Healey denied Lester’s allegations and sought dismissal of the claims against Healey because he was only a supervisor, not an owner of Bridge House.

Bridge House said any of its actions or omissions “were reasonable and done in good faith and were not willful, malicious or done in a reckless manner.”

The company said Lester’s termination was justified based on her actions; that it did not deprive her of family leave because she was not eligible for it at the time of her termination; and that it did send her a notice of insurance continuation availability in October 2018.

On Thursday, attorney Mark Tolman issued a statement on behalf of the company.

“Bridge House denies Ms. Lester’s allegations that her employment was discharged in violation of federal law,” it said in part. “Bridge House treated Ms. Lester at all times with professionalism and with respect.”

Bridge House approved Lester’s request for a leave of absence after she became pregnant, the company said.

“Much later, Bridge House discharged Ms. Lester’s employment for business reasons that were completely unrelated to her pregnancy and leave request,” the statement said.

Tolman also released a statement responding to the allegations about Healey:

“Mr. Healey denies making any negative statement to Ms. Lester about her pregnancy and denies mistreating her in any way. Mr. Healey also was not involved in the decision to terminate Ms. Lester’s employment.”

To meet requirements to be allowed to file a discrimination lawsuit, Lester had filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a Right to Sue document after an EEOC investigation.

Lester also filed a complaint with the Utah Labor Commission.

According to EEOC data, the federal agency resolved 3,340 pregnancy discrimination cases in 2018.

About 10 percent of those cases were resolved by negotiated settlement; another 23 percent were ruled by the EEOC to have merit; and in 61 percent, EEOC investigators found no reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred based on evidence obtained but that complainants were still authorized to file court action.

The remainder of cases were resolved for assorted reasons, such as complaints being dropped.

The EEOC said it levied $16.6 million in penalties against employers found guilty of pregnancy discrimination.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!