Texas Camp Settles Pregnancy and Disability Discrimination Claims with the Houston EEOC
May 22nd, 2017 by David Minces
Carolina Creek Christian Camp, a Huntsville, Texas based business, found themselves up the creek without a paddle last week. The company will be paying former employee Korrie Reed $70,000.00 in relief after they unlawfully terminated her based on her pregnancy and disability status. The company will also be required to fulfill several administrative requirements as a penalty for their illegal employment practices.
Korrie Reed’s Employment
Ms. Reed was hired as a camp registrar for Carolina Creek Christian Camp in August of 2013. Shortly after her hiring, Ms. Reed learned that she was pregnant. Ms. Reed developed gestational diabetes, a common and uneventful occurrence that almost a quarter of a million women in the United States are diagnosed with each year. She experienced no difficulties performing her job and did not ask for any accommodation from her employer.
Carolina Creek’s Unnecessary Response
In February, Korrie Reed was surprised when Carolina Creek made the decision to demote her just days after they found out about her diabetes diagnosis. The camp let her know in writing that they wanted to remove her “from the enormous daily stress of being the camp registrar.” This required making her and her assistant change places. Ms. Reed was now the assistant to the registrar, her former subordinate, a choice the camp made “predominately because of…her need to medically take care of herself and the baby.” Ms. Reed’s shock stemmed from the fact that she had never mentioned any special needs to her employer, nor experienced any difficulties performing her job duties adequately as a result of her “medical conditional” [sic], as Carolina Creek put it.
Reed’s Maternity Leave and Aftermath
Two months after her demotion, Ms. Reed went on maternity leave in April of 2014. Another surprise awaited her when she returned to work in June of 2014. Carolina Creek decided to demote Ms. Reed yet again without prompting or legitimate reason. Her new position as Assistant to the Finance Director, had significantly diminished responsibilities. For the remainder of 2014 and in January of 2015, Ms. Reed voiced her complaints to the Executive Director of the camp. In her complaints she mentioned that her demotions were illegal and discriminatory and based on her pregnancy and disability status.
The Nail(s) in the Coffin
Furthering their illegal employment practices, the camp terminated Korrie Reed’s employment on January 9, 2015 because of her complaints of discrimination. The employer confirmed that her termination was “because of” her pregnancy and gestational diabetes in the termination letter they provided her with. Ms. Reed retained counsel and filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC immediately after her wrongful termination. In response, the bold Defendant Carolina Creek sued Reed in state court the first week of February. Reed’s former employer said she “was not terminated at all, but refused re-assignment to other responsibilities.” With this suit still pending, Carolina Creek filed a second lawsuit against their former employee, challenging the Texas Workforce Commission’s decision to grant Ms. Reed unemployment.
The EEOC’s Claims That Carolina Creek’s Practices Violated the Law
Clearly, even to the layperson, Carolina Creek did several things wrong, as the EEOC asserted. Specifically, the camp violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The PDA outlaws discrimination based on pregnancy status and any retaliation that may arise from filing a complaint of such discrimination. Additionally, the camp’s conduct was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pregnancy by itself does not constitute a disability under the ADA, but any pregnancy-related medical condition or complication can be considered a disability under the Act, which also prevents retaliation based on such discrimination. As Rudy Sustaita, the EEOC’s regional attorney for Houston described, “Demoting a pregnant employee because of a belief that a pregnancy-related condition prevents her from performing her job duties is illegal, as is firing the employee for complaining that the demotion is discriminatory.”
How Two Years of Litigation Came to an End
After battling for several years, settlement seemed out of the question, until recently. A settlement agreement was reached several weeks ago and approved by Judge Lynn Hughes last week. In addition to the $70,000 the camp will be paying to Ms. Reed, they will also be required to: create and implement non-discrimination policies; institute complaint procedures and guides; provide anti-discrimination training to owners, managers, and employees; create compliance reports and supply them to the EEOC for a period of two years; as well as drop the two lawsuits that they filed against Ms. Reed.
Celebrating the Settlement and Looking Forward
As the EEOC’s Senior Trial Attorney Connie Gatlin proclaimed “The day is over when an employer could force a pregnant woman out of her job because of stereotypical unsupported beliefs about her abilities. A company cannot take it upon itself to remove an employee from her job because it suspects her pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical condition may interfere with the performance of her duties.” While employers should make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, it is wrong for them to assume that someone who has no issues performing their job duties needs accommodations and arrange for those modifications without consulting the employee. Hopefully, this hefty punishment for discriminating and retaliating against Korrie Reed based on her pregnancy and disability status teaches not only Carolina Creek Christian Camp a lesson, but serves as an example for employers around the country to avoid a similar fate.
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