D & S Shipley Donuts d/b/a Shipley’s Do-Nuts, a Katy-area franchise of Shipley’s Do-Nuts, violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it forced an employee whom it suspected of being pregnant, to take unpaid leave until she was cleared by a doctor indicating that she could work despite her pregnancy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. When the employee failed to provide a release, and after she and her mother disputed the legality of the requirement, the employee was fired in retaliation.
The EEOC’s suit alleged that the owner of Shipley’s Do-Nuts confronted Brooke Foley based on informal reports by other employees that she was pregnant. In an impromptu meeting attended by two other employees, the owner asked Foley intrusive personal questions about whether she was pregnant, which Foley refused to answer. At that point, the owner took Foley off the schedule and told she could not return (and therefore not get paid), until she provided a doctor’s note allowing her to work and assuring Shipley’s she did not have a “high risk” pregnancy.
The lawsuit further alleged that the same day as the confrontation with the owner, Foley’s mother, acting on her daughter’s behalf, confronted the owner about the legality of the release requirement. The following day, Foley was fired by a supervisor over the phone alleging she failed to report to work, despite her having been removed from the schedule.
Such alleged actions violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex or pregnancy and also prohibits retaliation against an employer for opposing an illegal workplace practice. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-03712) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks an injunction, back pay with pre-judgment interest, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that female employees are not forced out of the workplace because of their pregnancy. The decision of whether a pregnant employee should remain gainfully employed during her pregnancy rests solely upon her,” said Martin Ebel, acting director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office.
Jim Sacher, EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, explained, “The Supreme Court has made clear that the employee alone is responsible for making decisions that affect her safety and that of her future offspring. An employer who forces leave on a pregnant employee violates federal law. The law also prohibits retaliation against an employee for opposing unlawful attempts to interfere with that decision-making.”
Shipley’s Do-Nuts, the franchisor, has approximately 300 company-owned and franchised stores in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. This Shipley’s franchise owns and operates at least three restaurants in or around Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston.