Represented by high-powered lawyers, two women filed a federal court lawsuit Monday accusing AT&T's mobile phone subsidiary of firing them for pregnancy-related absences in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.
The women allege that AT&T Mobility's attendance policy, which assigns point-based demerits for late arrivals, early departures and absences, discriminates against pregnant women. According to the class-action lawsuit, both women were fired after accruing points for missing work because of pregnancy-related medical care, and, in one plaintiff's case, her infant son's emergency medical needs as well.
The plaintiffs, Katia Hills and Cynthia Allen, filed their claim on behalf of all female non-managerial employees in AT&T Mobility's retail stores nationwide, and seek redress for all of these employees whose rights have allegedly been violated.
The attorneys handling the lawsuit — from the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Cohen Milstein — said it could have national implications for the legal boundaries of attendance policies like the one used by AT&T Mobility.
Known as "no-fault" policies, they have become popular among some large employers as a way to decide which of their lower-echelon workers has an attendance problem. Under the policies, employees are assessed demerits for various unauthorized attendance lapses, regardless of the reason for the infraction, and those who exceed certain numbers of demerits face discipline.
The lawsuit says AT&T Mobility's attendance policy exempts several types of absences — including jury duty and short-term disability — but does not mention pregnancy. The suit contends that the policy violates both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which says companies cannot treat pregnant and non-pregnant employees differently in extending employment benefits, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, which grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees to care for their own serious medical condition or that of an immediate family member.
“AT&T Mobility is essentially punishing women for being pregnant,” said Cohen Milstein attorney Kalpana Kotagal. “Employers of course have every right to discipline employees who are habitually late or absent, but the law recognizes that pregnancy ... can't and shouldn't be penalized in the same way.”
The lawsuit seeks the nationwide revision of AT&T Mobility's attendance policies, compensation for the plaintiffs' loss of income, and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
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