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Bank teller fired after absence for abortion states plausible PDA claim

By Lorene D. Park, J.D.

Refusing to dismiss a Title VII suit by a credit union employee who was fired because she was absent to have a medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy, a federal district court in Florida found that her EEOC charge alleging wrongful discharge and describing the facts surrounding her termination was enough to administratively exhaust her claim and that her allegations sufficed to state a plausible claim under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (DeJesus v. Florida Central Credit Union, October 11, 2018, Honeywell, C.).

Day off to terminate pregnancy. The employee was hired by at the credit union’s St. Petersburg branch but requested a transfer to Clearwater for convenience. She started her position there as a teller on November 1, 2016. The next day, she learned that she was pregnant. She informed her supervisor and scheduled a medical procedure to terminate the pregnancy on November 10. She cleared the date with her supervisor, who approved the day off.

Given positive evaluation, then fired. On November 16, she was given a two-week performance evaluation by that supervisor and a supervisor from the Tampa branch. The evaluation went well and there were no disciplinary issues noted. However, the branch manager subsequently met with the employee and told her that she was being fired for her absence from work. The branch manager allegedly said the medical procedure was not an appropriate excuse for her absence, even though it had been approved by her immediate supervisor.

EEOC charge. The employee filed an EEOC charge marking the box for “Other” and specifying “wrongful termination” as the basis of the charge. In the charge, she stated: she was not feeling well, went to the doctor, and learned she was pregnant; she spoke to her supervisor regarding taking the day off, which was approved; she went forward with her time-sensitive medical procedure; and upon her return to work she received a positive evaluation but was then fired for taking the day off. She subsequently filed suit under Title VII, as amended by the PDA.

Exhausted administrative remedies. Moving to dismiss, the employer argued that she did not exhaust her administrative remedies because the basis for her EEOC charge was “wrongful termination” and not sex or pregnancy discrimination. Rejecting this argument, the court found that the claims in her amended complaint could reasonably grow from the allegations contained in her charge, which stated that the manager firing her explicitly mentioned her absence from work stemming from the medical procedure.

PDA claim plausible. The employer also asserted that the employee had not sufficiently pleaded her discrimination claim. It acknowledged that Title VII protects women from discrimination based on their choice to have an abortion. However, the employer argued that Title VII does not require preferential treatment to pregnant employees; it only requires that employers treat “pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees who are similarly situated.” According to the employer, because the employee here did not claim she was treated differently than any other employee, she failed to plead a prima facie case and her claim failed.

Disagreeing, the court first noted that the Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly held that a Title VII claimant doesn’t have to plead a prima facie case to survive dismissal. And in the court’s view, the employee here pleaded enough factual material to make her claim plausible. She alleged that she is a member of a protected class based on her sex and her pregnancy, that she was qualified for her position based on her outstanding performance evaluation, and that she was terminated for her preapproved absence to have a medical procedure to terminate her pregnancy. That sufficed, said the court, denying the employer’s motion.