Despite the growing number of anti-discrimination laws, discrimination lawsuits are not uncommon. The number of charges against employers constantly increases: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012) reports that compared to 80,680 discrimination charges in 1997, in 2011 employees filed a total of 99,947 charges claiming various types of discrimination, including discrimination by sex, race, religion, age, and disability. “Pregnancy” cases occupy a special place in employment relations. Simultaneously, pregnancy remains a common factor of discrimination in the workplace. Many employers want to get rid of their pregnant workers and justify their decisions by the importance of profitability and cost-effectiveness. However, they often forget that the EEOC has the authority and legal power to interfere with discrimination cases and protect pregnant workers from the risks of unlawful dismissal.
On April 6, 2012, the EEOC settled a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by two pregnant workers against their employer, Beehive of Vernal, Inc. (EEOC, 2012). The history of the case dates back to 2011. When Beehive’s owner learned of the assistant manager’s pregnancy, the woman was immediately subjected to a close scrutiny (EEOC, 2012). She was regularly asked when she would leave the job and was offered a replacement (EEOC, 2012). Eventually, the woman had to quit her position (EEOC, 2012). Beehive’s owner imposed similar limitations on another assistant manager who was also pregnant at that time (EEOC, 2012). Because pregnancy discrimination directly violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the EEOC filed a legal charge against Beehive of Vernal, Inc. that operates nursing homes in Vernal, Utah. Beehive of Vernal, Inc. agreed to pay a total of $22,000 to the two assistant managers in order to avoid further litigation (EEOC, 2012). As a result of the settlement, the company not only decided to pay out financial compensations but also agreed to provide its human resources (employees, workers, managers and supervisors) with annual pregnancy discrimination training (EEOC, 2012). In the next three years, Beehive of Vernal, Inc. will provide its employees with annual pregnancy discrimination training and will report the progress to the EEOC (EEOC, 2012).
The case has not received much coverage in the local media. Vernal Express provides a very modest discussion of the issue, whereas the Salt Lake Tribute reiterates EEOC’s press release almost word for word. Reasons why the case has not generated much publicity are numerous. On the one hand, it is possible that once the case was settled, Beehive of Vernal, Inc. ceased being a prospective object of media discussions. On the other hand, it is also possible that pregnancy discrimination cases are too common to attract considerable public attention. Popular media look for scandals and emotional shocks, and the discussed case is just a part of organizations’ daily routines.
The role and functions of the EEOC in this case do not differ from those in other cases. Basically, “the EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law” (EEOC, 2012). The function of the EEOC is to accurately and thoroughly assess the foundations of the lawsuit or charge and produce a grounded finding (EEOC, 2012). In this case, the EEOC found that discrimination had occurred and developed a set of actions to settle the charge. The EEOC has been successful in settling the case, and the two assistant managers will receive a total of $22,000 from their former employer. At the same time, if the EEOC had not been successful in settling the case, the organization would have the right to file a lawsuit against Beehive of Vernal, Inc. (EEOC, 2012). In all roles and functions, the EEOC’s intent is to protect the rights of individual employees. Beehive of Vernal, Inc. could have addressed the EEOC with questions in order to avoid pregnancy discrimination claims. However, the company chose a more difficult path to diversity and inclusion through the damaged company image and considerable financial losses.
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Whether the case promotes social change or not depends on the way social change is defined. Strasser and Randall (1981) define social change as that which entails considerable alterations in social organization, namely the functions and structure of society. Moreover, social change is inextricably linked to cultural change (Strasser & Randall, 1981). The discussed case is not that significant so as to promote social change. Pregnancy discrimination charges against Beehive of Vernal, Inc. lack any transformative potential. The best the case can do is to teach the organization how to promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Other organizations can learn from this case and improve their workplace policies. Since the case lacks publicity and represents a routine form of workplace discrimination, it can hardly cause any dramatic alterations in society structures and functions. Hopefully, the company will avoid further violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other regulations covering discrimination issues in the workplace.
The best way to avoid litigation difficulties and costs is to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC provides no-cost outreach education and training, and this is one of the best ways to create diversity and promote inclusion within organizations. The organization may request an EEOC representative to make a presentation or participate in a meeting devoted to the discussion of discrimination and diversity (EEOC, 2012). Additionally, the company should devise a non-discrimination policy and engage its employees in regular training sessions. In this way, the company will guarantee that its managers and employees are aware of the discrimination risks and can anticipate unnecessary litigation complexities before they occur.
Despite the growing scope of anti-discrimination laws, discrimination lawsuits are quite common. Pregnant women often fall victims to business owners’ desire to reduce their costs by all means. However, firing a pregnant woman is a direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Companies that violate the law can face legal charges and serious financial losses. The EEOC has the authority and power to protect individual employees from the risks of discrimination. Meanwhile, companies can use training and education opportunities provided by the EEOC to avoid unnecessary discrimination and litigation complexities.