Tempe Bar Fired Bartender Because She Was Pregnant, Federal Agency Charged
PHOENIX - The owners/operators of the Moonshine Whiskey Bar in Tempe, Ariz., will pay $66,000 and furnish other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Tempe-based Moonshine Group, LLC discharged Michelle Viscusi, a bartender, because she was pregnant. Moonshine Group operated Moonshine Whiskey Bar until July 2015, when it sold the bar to True Country Enterprises LLC, also based in Tempe.
Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-01618-DLR), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
After Moonshine Group failed to appear and defend itself in court, Judge Douglas L. Rayes held a default judgment hearing. During the hearing, EEOC provided an audiotape recording in which Benjamin Levine, one of Moonshine Group's members (that is, one of the owners of Moonshine Group, which is an Arizona limited liability company), said, "There's going to be a whole number of people that I would be offending by allowing a pregnant person to be behind the bar. They might look at it as the owner's a f---ing idiot they're letting a girl that's pregnant that could get injured behind the bar bartending right now. How irresponsible are those guys?"
In his April 19 order granting default judgment to the Commission, Judge Rayes found Moonshine's conduct "deplorable," concluding that Moonshine Group violated federal law by removing Viscusi from her duties because she was pregnant. Judge Rayes ordered Moonshine Group to pay $15,721 in back pay, $925 in back pay interest, $10,000 in compensatory damages, and $15,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $41,647.
Under a separate consent decree, True Country is required to pay $25,000, conduct management training, and implement new equal employment opportunity policies to ensure that its practices comply with anti-discrimination law.
"I knew what Ben was doing was wrong, and I'm happy Judge Rayes recognized that," said Michelle Viscusi. "I brought this charge because women have just as much of a right to work as men, and pregnancy doesn't change that."
EEOC Trial Attorney Mark Sorokin said, "Judge Rayes' decision recognizes that pregnant women fully belong in the workplace."
EEOC Phoenix regional attorney Mary Jo O'Neill added, "This employer's words cut against everything that we stand for. The court's judgment provides some measure of satisfaction and vindicates Michelle's decision to come forward. The consent decree with True Country will ensure that what happened to Michelle will not happen again at the Moonshine Whiskey Bar."
EEOC Phoenix Acting District Director Elizabeth Cadle pointed out that EEOC received 3,543 charges of pregnancy discrimination in fiscal year 2015 nationwide, which constituted about 4 percent of the 89,385 charges the agency received that year.
Cadle said, "Women must be allowed to make their own decisions whether to work while pregnant. Unfortunately, what happened to Michelle happens far too often. Employers must make responsible employment decisions concerning employees who are pregnant."
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. EEOC's Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque). Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.