MINNEAPOLIS — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against White Way Cleaners of St. Paul, Minn., accusing the drycleaner of firing an employee because she was pregnant.
The drycleaner had a policy in place for several years that prohibited pregnant women from working in its St. Paul plant to protect them from the chemicals it uses. When employee Michelle Johnson became pregnant in 2006, White Way transferred her to a counter position away from production. She went back to the plant after returning from maternity leave, but the suit claims that when she became pregnant a second time, she was terminated because of her pregnancy.
EEOC says that the drycleaner’s policy barring pregnant women from the plant floor was illegal, and that White Way discriminated against Johnson by transferring her, denying her a raise and ultimately firing her because of her pregnancy.
“Employers cannot restrict women — pregnant or otherwise — from their facilities in anything but the most unique of circumstances,” John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago district office, said in a statement. “The EEOC contends that this wasn’t one of those circumstances.”
White Way owner Dan Parker’s attorney, Robert McClay, says Johnson was terminated because of poor performance, not her pregnancy, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The White Way policy barring pregnant women from the plant is no longer in place.
Parker claims he wasn’t aware of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states that decisions regarding where pregnant women can and should work are to be made by the woman. EEOC found that the chemicals released during drycleaning are at such low levels that they don’t pose a hazard. Even so, it’s not up to the employer to determine what’s safe or unsafe for a pregnant woman, the agency says.