Samoan Counselor Terminated Weeks After Giving Birth
SAN FRANCISCO — A Bayview Hunters Point nonprofit violated federal law when it failed to promote and instead terminated an employee because of her Samoan national origin and her pregnancy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
Tanya Thompson, who is Samoan, was hired by the United Council of Human Services (UCHS) in May 2002 as a Peer Advisor. She worked the graveyard shift counseling walk-in clients at its 24-hour Drop-In Center. In 2007, just days prior to beginning maternity leave, she learned that a co-worker had been promoted to Supervisory Peer Advisor. According to the EEOC’s investigation, the new supervisor, who is male and not Samoan, had fewer qualifications and less experience than Thompson, who had a record of five years of excellent service. Thompson started her maternity leave on April 27, 2007, one day before her baby was born, and attempted to return to work on June 4. She was turned away and later informed that her job was eliminated due to funding cuts. However, EEOC found that UCHS had hired a male, also not Samoan, to replace Thompson on the Peer Advisor graveyard shift during her maternity leave, who continued to work there after she terminated.
Thompson said, “I loved my job as a Peer Advisor helping people. After working there for five years, it was devastating to lose my job so suddenly. I worked right up to the day before I gave birth, and tried to return to work soon as I could, just to find out my job was cut. I didn't know how I was going to support the new baby and the rest of my family.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the bases of national origin and gender. According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions affected by pregnancy. The EEOC filed this lawsuit (CV 10-3826-BZ in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern District of California) only after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation. The suit seeks monetary damages, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
“Our investigation found that Ms. Thompson faced comments such as ‘Every time I see you, you are pregnant,’” stated EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado. “S tigmatizing pregnant women of a particular ethnicity or race compounds the barriers to a level playing field. Employment decisions must be based on merit and ability, not stereotypes and bias.”
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “ Pregnant women and mothers who work hard and perform well should be valued for their work, not penalized for their gender or ethnicity. It is illegal to promote or fire workers based on pregnancy or national origin. In addition, it is an injustice to deprive an employee of her livelihood at the very moment she and her upcoming family need it most.”
Baldonado observed a trend of increases in national origin and pregnancy discrimination. In fiscal year 2009, the EEOC received 11,134 discrimination charges alleging national origin, a record high. P regnancy discrimination charge filings, at 6,196, show only a slight decrease from the previous year which was at a record high of 6,285, up 12% from the prior year and 50% over the past decade.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.