Family Responsibility Discrimination Alleged in Woman-Owned Organization

By Sally Abrahamson

A recent lawsuit filed in California state court against The Oprah Winfrey Network sheds light on pregnancy and leave discrimination issues in the workplace.

The complaint, filed in the Superior Court of California in the County of Los Angeles, alleges that OWN discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff Carolyn Hommel on the basis of her sex and disability, in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Labor Code.

The allegations state that Hommel informed her superiors that she was pregnant, and shortly thereafter she had to take a medical leave for pregnancy-related reasons. During her leave, according to the complaint, she was essentially replaced by a temporary employee and upon her return, her responsibilities were diminished. The complaint claims that despite her exemplary performance reviews and the fact that she was on track to become a Vice President, OWN terminated Hommel’s employment in March 2012, just one month after her return from leave.

Click here to read more about the lawsuit.

Lawsuits making these types of allegations often cite to a bias against parents in the workplace. Often times, it is alleged that employers and many employees have preconceived notions that pregnant women, mothers, and/or fathers would “prefer” to be at home and will be incapable of dedicating her or himself fully to the job. It is asserted that these biases contribute to an unfair and unequal workplace.

Here in New York, Governor Cuomo recently announced that he will advance the Women’s Equality Act, which includes a 10-point proposal that, if passed, will:

  • Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice by Enacting the Reproductive Health Act
  • Achieve Pay Equity
  • Stop Sexual Harassment in All Workplaces
  • Allow for the Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees in Employment and Credit and Lending Cases
  • Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws
  • End Family Status Discrimination
  • Stop Source-of-Income Discrimination
  • Stop Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic Violence
  • Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All
  • Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws

This wide-ranging bill is widely supported by over 280 organizations and would change the legal landscape for women, especially in the workplace. For example, the legislation would deter pregnancy discrimination by creating provisions within the Human Rights Law that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions. The bill also promises to amend current law to prohibit employers from denying work or promotion to workers simply because they have children.

Click here to read more about the New York Women’s Equality Act.

Please visit the professional bio of Amber Trzinski  at the Outten & Golden LLP website.