“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot.” – Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.
A federal judge in New York earlier this week threw out a pregnancy discrimination case against Bloomberg, L.P., holding that it is not the court’s job to “tell businesses what attributes they must value in their employees as they make pay and promotion decisions.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, essentially says pregnant women who take maternity leave are making a choice which may leave them in a disadvantageous position at the workplace. She says it’s not against the law because … hey, it was their choice wasn’t it?
The EEOC alleged that 49 of the 78 claimants in the lawsuit were demoted once they announced their pregnancy and/or returned from maternity leave in terms of a diminished title and the number of employees directly reporting to them. Not only were their responsibilities diminished but their responsibilities were handed off to junior male employees. Also, the EEOC alleged, 77 of 78 of the claimants had their total compensation decreased after becoming pregnant or returning from maternity leave.
Bloomberg is an international financial services and media company based in New York City that provides news, information, and analysis. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg owns the majority of the company, which he founded in 1981
Judge Preska writes:
“ … women who take maternity leave, work fewer hours, and demand more scheduling flexibility likely are at a disadvantage in a demanding culture like Bloomberg’s … The law does not require companies to ignore or stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life.”
She goes on to write:
“The law does not mandate “work-life balance.” It does not require companies to ignore employees’ work-family tradeoffs — and they are tradeoffs — when deciding about employee pay and promotions. It does not require that companies treat pregnant women and mothers better or more leniently than others. All of these things may be desirable, they may make business sense, and they may be “forward thinking.” But they are not required by law.”
Judge Preska granted Bloomberg’s request for a summary judgment to dismiss the EEOC’s complaint, finding that a reasonable jury could not conclude that Bloomberg engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant women who took maternity leave. Judge Preska said the “anecdotal” evidence provided by the EEOC was insufficient in light of evidence produced by Bloomberg. Judge Preska’s decision means the case cannot proceed to a jury.
Judge Preska acknowledged that compensation “growth” for workers who took maternity leave was less than for those who took no leave but she said it is legal to discriminate “between those employees who take off long periods of time in order to raise children and those who either do not have children or are able to raise them without an appreciable career interruption.”
The EEOC also presented examples of alleged bias. One class member, for example, “reported to the CEO in 2003 that the head of the News division made some negative comments about women taking paid maternity leave but then not returning to the company, the CEO said, “Well, is every fucking woman in the company having a baby or going to have a baby?”
According to Judge Preska: “Isolated remarks by a handful of executives — or one specific executive, the head of News, which EEOC focuses on heavily here — do not show that Bloomberg’s standard operating procedure was to discriminate against pregnant women and mothers.”
Finally, here’s what Judge Preska has to say about the fact that only women bear children:
“To be sure, women need to take leave to bear a child. And, perhaps unfortunately, women tend to choose to attend to family obligations over work obligations thereafter more often than men in our society. Work-related consequences follow. Likewise, men tend to choose work obligations over family obligations, and family consequences follow. Whether one thinks those consequences are intrinsically fair, whether one agrees with the roles traditionally assumed by the different genders in raising children in the United States, or whether one agrees with the monetary value society places on working versus childrearing is not at issue here. Neither is whether Bloomberg is the most “family-friendly” company. The fact remains that the law requires only equal treatment in the workplace. Employment consequences for making choices that elevate non-work activities (for whatever reason) over work activities are not illegal.”
Judge Preska was nominated by President George H. W. Bush on March 31, 1992.
It is not clear whether or not Judge Preska has any children.