If you are an employer you are aware you may not discriminate against your employees, but it is important to know the law also applies to job applicants. Most employers include an equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement in their employee handbooks or policy manuals. If you don’t, then you definitely need to update those documents. The EEO statement will typically read, “This Company will comply with all applicable laws governing equal employment opportunity. This policy extends to all applicants and employees and to all aspects of the employment relationship including, but not limited to, recruiting, hiring, promotion, transfer, and compensation…”
Last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals remanded a case back to district court for determination of damages, after holding the employer discriminated against a job applicant on the basis of her pregnancy.
In LaPoint v. Family Orthodontics, P.A., A15-0396 (Minn. Ct. App. 2015), Dr. Ross with Family Orthodontics, a small business with only 9 employees, rescinded a job offer made to Ms. LaPoint after learning she was pregnant and wanted to take 12 weeks of maternity leave. Family Orthodontics had a policy allowing for six weeks of maternity leave. When notifying Ms. LaPoint the job offer was rescinded, Dr. Ross identified two concerns: 1) why Ms. LaPoint didn’t tell her about the pregnancy when she was interviewed and 2) that a three-month maternity leave would be too disruptive to the business.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibits employers from discriminating against a person with respect to hiring on the basis of sex. Sex includes “pregnancy, childbirth, and disabilities related to pregnancy or childbirth.” See Minn. Stat. §363A.03. Employers are also prohibited from asking for information from a job applicant that pertains to sex.
In LaPoint, the court determined there was substantial direct “evidence in the record that Family Orthodontics discriminated against LaPoint on the basis of her pregnancy in a purposeful, intentional, and overt manner.” The court stated the first reason Dr. Ross gave for rescinding the job offer, was substantially based upon the pregnancy and illegitimate because it punished Ms. LaPoint for failing to disclose a fact which Family Orthodontics could not lawfully inquire about. The court held the second reason, anticipated maternity leave, was also related to the pregnancy. Additionally, there was evidence presented that Family Orthodontics reposted the ad for the orthodontic assistant shortly after learning about Ms. LaPoint’s pregnancy.
Employers be cautious when interviewing job applicants and do not ask questions that can lead to you learning information about a protected class status. As my law partner has blogged about in the past, hiring decisions are some of the most important ones an employer makes. The last thing you want to do is open your business up to litigation because of a job applicant you didn’t hire.