Dear Evil HR Lady,
I have been working at this company for the past year and a half. We had a layoff in October 2007. This layoff affected our campus but I was not let go. However, they let employees know on November 29 and 30 that layoffs would happen again mid-December. I was notified that I will be affected.
My due date is January 6th and I was about to go on my disability leave. When I was informed of the layoff, I was told that it was merely to reduce headcount. I was
the only person to be laid off in my group of 10 people. They even hired a student recently and paid her relocation charge to move her.
I have always been a good employee and completed my work on time. My team mates can confirm this and I have emails and instant messages to prove this. I feel I have been wronged and want to know what my chances are of suing my employer for doing this to me just before I go on disability.
Seeing how I wasn’t involved in the layoff decision making process, I can’t say how the decision was made and I can’t say whether your pregnancy played a role, but I live to speculate so let’s go at it.
First, the rules. It’s illegal to fire you because you are pregnant, but it’s not illegal to fire a pregnant woman for another reason. A reduction in headcount is a perfectly legitimate reason to fire anyone, regardless of protected class status.
So, how was that decision made? It could be “hey, she’s pregnant and probably won’t come back from leave anyway. Let’s term her.” This is illegal, but not saying it doesn’t happen. It may never have even been spoken, but it could have been thought.
The decision could have been made by someone who doesn’t even know you are pregnant. Honestly. Some reductions I have been involved in are done by creating criteria, feeding those criteria into a computer and the computer spits out the list of terms. Without the high tech aspect, a list of “rules” could have been made to determine who should go.
It could be based on your specific job. They feel that your tasks can be divided up between the remaining 9 employees.
As for the newly hired student, frequently companies will have policies against laying off someone hired within the past year. Why? If I hire you, move you across the company, and then lay you off 6 months later, you can argue that you hired me in bad faith, knew that the position was to be eliminated and sue you for breech of contract. You may or may not win, but it sure makes me look bad, which we don’t want.
Not that laying off pregnant women makes companies look any better.
So, could you prevail in a lawsuit? I have no idea. Here is what I would do if I were you.
1. Call up the HR person that handled your termination and let her know you feel you were terminated because you were pregnant.
2. If she responds with a, “let’s talk about your severance,” then you can definitely negotiate higher.
3. If she responds with, “I’m sorry, but your pregnancy was not taken into consideration,” call a lawyer.
4. Beware, a lawyer may end up charging you more than you could get in increased severance. Sometimes you can get an attorney that will take your case on a contingency basis. If so, make sure the contingency portion is above and beyond whatever benefits you would receive if you didn’t sue.
5. Have your attorney contact the company.
6. Hope for the best.
Most likely, if you have any sort of potential case, they will negotiate with you immediately. This doesn’t mean that you were terminated because of pregnancy, just that it would cost them more to defend against this charge than it would to pay you out.
Good luck and may your labor be short and pain free.