Owner Fired Housekeeper Solely Because of Pregnancy, Federal Agency Charged
DALLAS – A federal district court today awarded the maximum damages of $50,000 and significant injunctive relief in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a discrimination lawsuit against a Dallas-based commercial janitorial company, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, the owners of First Sreymco, LLC, doing business as Jani-King, reduced the work hours of housekeeper Sonia Alvarado simply because she was pregnant and subsequently fired her. The company ignored medical assurances that Alvarado presented to them, the EEOC said, and co-owner Michelle Myers told her that the company did not want to take any risks because of her pregnancy.
Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, under which employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. In June 2007, Alvarado filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, initiating an investigation by the agency’s Dallas District Office.
The EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. First Sreymco, LLC, d/b/a Jani-King, Civ. 3:08—CV—1607--D) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, on September 12, 2008. Despite receiving notice of the lawsuit, Jani-King failed to file an answer to the litigation or otherwise appear in the case, and the court entered a default judgment against the company on May 13, 2009.
Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater awarded $50,000, which is the maximum amount of damages an employer having fewer than 100 employees is required to pay in an employment discrimination lawsuit. The judge ruled that these damages consisted of both compensatory damages to compensate Alvarado for the pain and anguish she suffered as a result of the discrimination, and punitive damages to punish Jani-King for its malicious or reckless indifference to Alvarado’s federal right to be free from employment discrimination.
The court also awarded significant injunctive relief against Jani-King. The judge ordered Jani-King, its owners, managers, successors, and all persons in active concert or participation with them to be enjoined from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sex or pregnancy. The judge further ordered Jani-King to institute, disseminate, and enforce a policy under which pregnant employees are permitted to work as long as they are able to and choose to do so.
Devika Seth, senior trial attorney with the EEOC’s Dallas office, said, “We hope this Judgment sends a message to employers that women who wish to continue working and are able to do so should not be penalized simply because they are expecting a child. We are so proud of Ms. Alvarado for coming forward and standing up for her right to work.”
“I lost my happiness when Jani-King told me they didn’t want me because I was pregnant,” said Alvarado. “The news of the judgment has brought hope back to me because I know now that there is support for pregnant women when their employer breaks the law.”
During Fiscal Year 2007, pregnancy charges rose to a record high level of 5,587, up 14 percent from the prior fiscal year’s record of 4,901.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.