New York Federal Court Decides It Was Unlawful Not to Hire Job Candidate Because She is Pregnant

On April 15, 2014, a federal judge issued a Consent Decree in the case Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Benhar Office Interiors, LLC (Benhar), affirming the parties’ agreement to settle the case for $40,000 backpay plus $50,000 compensatory damages. The EEOC brought its suit on behalf of Plaintiff Jacquetta Yee, who argued in her complaint that her offer of employment with Benhar was revoked when she revealed to them, in the course of accepting their offer in December 2011, that she was pregnant and due to give birth in June 2012.

It would have been difficult for Benhar to argue that they had decided not to hire Yee for any reason other than her pregnancy, given the sequence of events leading up to the company’s decision not to hire her: she went through a series of successful interviews, received positive feedback from the defendant, was offered the full-time Controller position, told Benhar’s hiring manager that she was pregnant, and finally was informed that the position had been offered to another candidate.

In supporting its complaint the EEOC makes to further allegations: first, that Mark Benhar, the President of the company, had received an email informing him of Yee’s pregnancy, and had replied to that email by saying “F*ck might be a deal breaker.” There were few pieces of evidence like this, but the EEOC secondly alleged that Benhar had intentionally failed to maintain retain records relevant to the questions at issue in this lawsuit, and in particular “interview notes relating to the hiring of a full-time controller.”

This was clearly a case the EEOC chose to prosecute itself in order to demonstrate its interpretation of, and intention to enforce, laws regarding pregnancy discrimination. Following the release of the Court’s decision, EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry stated that “Employment decisions cannot be made on the basis of pregnancy. The EEOC will continue to take vigorous action to remedy discrimination against pregnant applicants and employees.” His colleague Catherine Wan, the EEOC trial attorney assigned to the case, added, “We are pleased that Benhar worked with us to resolve this lawsuit. We are confident that the measures Benhar has put in place will increase awareness that pregnancy discrimination violates the law.”

In addition to paying monetary damages, the Defendant was ordered by the Court “to cease discriminating on the basis of sex, including pregnancy, in any phase of employment…;” to revise and disseminate a revised company manual; to require its supervisory and management employees to participate in three hours per year of anti-discrimination training; to post the EEOC’s “EEO is the Law” poster prominently; and to take various steps to provide the EEOC with information about its incoming job candidates and information about past sex discrimination complaints.

If you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination because of your sex, including because of your pregnancy status, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.