For the past twenty-five years, a JCPenney lawsuit has been playing out at the United States District Court in Atlanta, Georgia. This case, filed by a female employee of JCPenney’s, Lisa Marie Smith, contends that her employer had engaged in gender discrimination and/or hostile employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In doing so, she claims that JCPenney failed to train her employees appropriately about how to handle such issues, as well as not adequately maintaining a positive environment for all employees.
The litigation began in February of 1990, when JCPenney’s store manager learned that Smith was pregnant. According to Smith’s attorney, Michael D. Berry, this was not communicated to the rest of the store personnel. Berry stated, “JCPenney is in an interesting position. On one hand, they have this policy of no discrimination against pregnant employees, but on the other hand, they also have this system in place of having each employee fill out a ‘notice’ form each and every time they get pregnant.
This form clearly states that JCPenney does not discriminate against pregnant women. However, JCPenney’s policies on hiring and firing do not allow for an understanding of such issues. Instead, many store managers feel that if a pregnant woman has an accident, or becomes injured while at work, she must just “deal” with it. Such feelings, according to Berry, are actually discriminatory. Berry stated, “It was a deliberate choice for JCPenney to hire managers who were not knowledgeable about pregnancy discrimination law.
Because of the policies of JCPenney regarding hiring, firing, and the environment in which the employees work, Berry said the company has often become the object of lawsuits, including this one, over allegations of sexual harassment and/or discrimination. The case now rests on the question of whether or not JCPenney had a policy in place that clearly prohibited any sexual harassment or discrimination based upon a pregnancy-related activity.
The court is presently evaluating this issue, as a preliminary ruling will be made shortly. The lawsuit has received national publicity because it involves a woman who feels as if JCPenney has discriminated against her based on her pregnancy.
JCPenney is a very popular retailer of women’s apparel, and its success has resulted in a large number of female employees, including Smith, being able to receive maternity leave. at a reasonable rate, without facing any discrimination. or harassment on the job. Although most maternity leave policies at JCPenney are quite reasonable, Smith and her attorney believe that JCPenney should have a separate policy about when an employee becomes pregnant and when they become pregnant again.
As a result, the JCPenney lawsuit has received tremendous publicity in both print and television media. Although no jury trial date has yet been scheduled, Berry said that he is willing to take his case to trial. The case has been covered on the networks and is also being discussed in newspapers, magazines, and radio stations.
The plaintiffs in the JCPenney lawsuit say that the company has failed to provide them with appropriate health benefits to care for their pregnancy. After receiving her maternity leave, Smith said that her employer never provided her with adequate coverage for her needs. She was unable to receive medical insurance coverage that would have covered the cost of having her baby.
While she didn’t need the extra money, she did need to have the protection provided by the pregnancy-only plan. In her view, that policy was inadequate, in that it didn’t cover the cost of expenses associated with breastfeeding. or pumping breast milk for her babies.
The company also failed to provide her with an employee’s health insurance plan that would have allowed her to continue working while she was pregnant. and receiving pay while she was pregnant. Even after she returned to work, she was not able to find another plan that would allow her to keep her job and earn a living while she was pregnant.
Although the pregnancy-only plan provided her with a lot of flexibility, Berry believes that it wasn’t enough. “I can’t say I was happy with the policy,” he said. “It doesn’t cover all the needs of a pregnant woman.” As a result, Smith is considering taking her employer to court.