AT&T’s mobile phone subsidiary, AT&T Mobility, recently came under fire after being accused of pregnancy discrimination. In response to the alleged discrimination, two women filed a federal lawsuit that officially accused AT&T mobility of “firing them for pregnancy-related absences in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.” According to the plaintiffs, Katia Hills and Cynthia Allen, the company’s “attendance policy, which assigns point-based demerits for late arrivals, early departures, and absences, discriminates against pregnant women.” It turns out, both Hills and Allen were terminated from their positions “after accruing points for missing work because of pregnancy-related medical care, and, in one plaintiff’s case, her infant son’s emergency medical needs as well.”
The lawsuit itself was filed “on behalf of all female non-managerial employees in AT&T Mobility’s retail stores nationwide,” and in filing the complaint, Hills and Allen hope changes will be implemented so other pregnant women working at AT&T won’t have to endure what they did.
When commenting on their client’s complaints, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Cohen Milstein said the lawsuit “could have national implications for the legal boundaries of attendance policies like the one used by AT&T Mobility.” For those who don’t know, AT&T Mobility has a no-fault attendance policy. In recent years, these policies “have become popular among some large employers as a way to decide which of their lower-echelon workers has an attendance problem.” Employees who work for companies with no-fault attendance policies are given demerits for unauthorized absences, regardless of the reason behind the infraction. After a certain number of demerits is acquired, an employee can be terminated.
An attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, Gillian Thomas, chimed in on the lawsuit, saying:
“They treat employees like cogs, but employees aren’t cogs. They’re human. They get pregnant, they get sick, they have families that need to be taken care of.”
So what happened exactly to prompt Hills and Allen to go ahead and file the lawsuit? For starters, Hills worked for an AT&T Mobility store in Elkhart, Indiana from April 2014 to July 2015. During her time as an employee, she became pregnant. Unfortunately, the pregnancy caused nausea and other symptoms that “sometimes caused her to be late or miss work.” As a result, she accrued many demerits by the time her maternity leave began and even “experienced workplace hostility to her pregnancy.” In June 2015, she gave birth and returned to work in July. Two days after returning, she was “fired because of demerits incurred for two pre-leave, pregnancy-related absences,” according to the lawsuit.
When discussing her complaints and experience at AT&T Mobility, Hills said:
“When I decided to bring a child into this world, the company asked me to choose between my job and having a safe pregnancy. The attendance policies are too rigid for women whose bodies are undergoing so many changes.”
Allen had a similar experience. She worked at a New York AT&T Mobility store from December 2012 to April 2017 when she was suddenly fired for absences. According to the lawsuit, “when pregnancy-related illnesses required her to take time off before her son’s birth in December 2016, she submitted documentation from her health providers and was not told of any demerits.” However, upon returning from maternity leave in February 2017, she was informed she had “been put on final notice due to the pre-birth absences, and she was fired the following month after missing two days to take her son for emergency medical care.”
It’s important to note, however, that “AT&T Mobility’s attendance policy exempts several types of absences, including jury duty and short-term disability, but does not mention pregnancy.” Because of this, the lawsuit argues that the company’s policy is in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
When discussing the lawsuit, attorney Kalpana Kotagal of Cohen Milstein said:
“AT&T Mobility is essentially punishing women for being pregnant. Employers, of course, have every right to discipline employees who are habitually late or absent, but the law recognizes that pregnancy can’t and shouldn’t be penalized in the same way.”
At the moment, the lawsuit is hoping to achieve a “nationwide revision of AT&T Mobility’s attendance policies, compensation for the plaintiffs’ loss of income, and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages,” according to court documents.