Court: Woman not hired because she was pregnant owed damages

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today reinstated a discrimination suit filed by a woman who says she was denied a job because she was pregnant when it was offered.

In March 2013, Dr. Angela Ross, owner of Family Orthodontics rescinded a job offer to Nicole LaPoint, who had applied for a job as an orthodontic assistant. LaPoint told her after the job was offered that she was two months pregnant and hoped to take 12 weeks of maternity time. After telling LaPoint that her company’s policy was six-weeks leave, she pulled the job offer. LaPoint claimed she lost the job because she didn’t tell Ross she was pregnant.

At the trial, Family Orthodontics argued that Dr. Ross withdrew the job offer due to her concern about the difficulties the clinic would experience if LaPoint took more than six weeks of maternity leave, not due to LaPoint’s pregnancy.

The court dismissed the case, saying LaPoint hadn’t proven that not telling Ross about her pregnancy killed the job offer.

But the Court of Appeals affirmed that the state’s human rights law prohibits discrimination based on sex, and sex includes “pregnancy, childbirth, and disabilities related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Employers are not allowed to ask any questions about sex in filling positions.

“There is extensive evidence in the record that Family Orthodontics discriminated against LaPoint on the basis of her pregnancy in a purposeful, intentional, and overt manner,” Court of Appeals Judge Michael Kirk wrote in today’s opinion (pdf). “On three occasions, Dr. Ross articulated two reasons for withdrawing the job offer: failure to disclose the pregnancy at the interview and the disruption of a long maternity leave.”

The last pregnant woman Family Orthodontics hired did not return to work after childbirth, and, upon learning of LaPoint’s pregnancy, Dr. Ross asked about LaPoint’s intention to return. Although LaPoint stated that she would consider taking a shorter leave, Dr. Ross never offered her the job contingent upon a leave no longer than six weeks or even contacted her to discuss the issue further.

Shortly after learning of LaPoint’s pregnancy, Family Orthodontics reposted the ad for the position. Finally, it ultimately hired a non-pregnant woman without commensurate experience to fill the position.

Taken as a whole, the evidence and the district court’s findings show a specific link between LaPoint’s pregnancy and the rescission of the job offer.

Kirk said if the company’s decision were really based on the maternity leave, it could have informed LaPoint about the six-weeks policy and allowed her to decide whether to accept the job offer based on that policy.

The Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lower court to determine the damages owed to LaPoint.