Charter School to Pay $570K for Pregnancy Discrimination

Imagine Schools Inc., a nationwide operator of charter schools, has agreed to pay $570,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced recently.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, charged that Imagine Schools discriminated when it chose not to retain two pregnant employees after closing its charter middle school in Kansas City, Mo., and opening a private middle and high school, Renaissance Academy, at the same location. The lawsuit claimed that the company did not rehire LuShonda Smith, an office manager, and Charity Brooks, an administrative assistant, to work at the new school because they were pregnant.

Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. EEOC filed suit in September 2008 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

“Unfortunately, the EEOC keeps having to drive home the point that no woman should lose her means of earning a living simply because she is pregnant,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “This significant settlement should serve as a reminder of that fact to other employers.”

In addition to requiring $570,000 in back pay, emotional distress damages, and attorneys’ fees, the two-year consent decree, which must be approved by the court, requires the nationwide charter school company to disseminate a policy on pregnancy discrimination, provide management training on such discrimination, report internal discrimination complaints to EEOC, and prominently post a notice regarding employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the agency.

“There is no excuse for a company in the business of educating children to discriminate against pregnant women,” said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney for EEOC. “We are pleased that Imagine Schools is now setting a good example for today’s youth by recognizing that working mothers deserve the same opportunities as all other employees.”

Pregnancy discrimination charges filed with EEOC and state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies rose from 4,160 in fiscal year 2000 to 6,196 in fiscal year 2009.

In April 2009, EEOC issued a document on best practices to avoid discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities. It is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/caregiver-best-practices.html.

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