General Manager Refused to Hire Applicant Solely Because She Was Pregnant, Federal Agency Charged
PHOENIX – In a legal victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an Arizona federal jury returned a verdict for punitive damages against High Speed Enterprise, Inc., a corporation that owns five Phoenix-area Subway fast-food restaurant franchises. Federal District Court Judge Roslyn O. Silver had previously ruled that a central Phoenix Subway violated federal law when it refused to hire a job applicant solely because she was pregnant. Thursday, January 26, 2012, the Phoenix jury of seven -- five men and two women -- returned a unanimous verdict finding that Belinda Murillo, the job applicant, was entitled to punitive damages. The jury awarded $7,280 in punitive damages to Belinda Murillo. The court will now decide back pay damages and injunctive relief.
“I want to thank the EEOC for believing in me and fighting this fight for me and other victims of pregnancy discrimination,” said discrimination victim Brenda Murillo. “I finally got to tell my story at the trial to the jury and they believed me.”
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit (EEOC v. High Speed Enterprise, Inc, dba Subway, CV-08-01789-PHX-ROS), Murillo applied for a position at the Subway in May 2006. Later that month, when Murillo met with the general manager, he asked Murillo if she were pregnant. When she said that she was, the manager told her, “We can’t hire you because you’re pregnant.” The manager admitted in sworn testimony that he had made that statement because he had been told by the president of operations that he could not hire pregnant women.
Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The act makes it clear that it is against federal anti-discrimination laws for employers to refuse to hire pregnant women or to fire women because they are pregnant or in any way treat pregnant women differently because they are pregnant. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
On June 27, 2011 Chief Judge Roslyn O. Silver for U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona agreed with the EEOC’s position. She issued an order finding that there was direct evidence that this employer had violated the law. Following the court’s ruling, the case went to a jury trial on punitive damages starting on January 24, 2012. The EEOC sought back pay, punitive damages and appropriate injunctive relief. The seven-person jury decided unanimously that punitive damages should be awarded because Subway acted in reckless disregard for Murillo’s federally protected rights.
“The court had previously agreed with the EEOC, without the need to go to a jury trial on liability, that Subway engaged in intentional sex and pregnancy discrimination,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “The EEOC would like to remind employers that pregnancy discrimination has been illegal for decades, and violations of the law will be met with rigorous enforcement by our agency. We also want pregnant women to know that it is illegal for employers to refuse to hire them, fire them or to treat them differently simply because they are pregnant.”
EEOC Trial Attorney Nancy Griffiths said, “We are thrilled with the jury’s decision. Belinda Murillo stood up for her rights even though it was not easy. When the jury heard her story and awarded punitive damages, justice finally prevailed.”
EEOC Trial Attorney Richard Sexton added, “We are pleased with the jury’s and court’s decisions. Employers cannot refuse to hire women simply because they are pregnant, and women should never be forced to choose between motherhood and their livelihood, especially in these difficult economic times.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.