Jury Awards $415,000 to Paramedic for Pregnancy Discrimination

On May 7, 2018, a King County jury awarded $415,000 to our client Danielle Stumpf, a paramedic whose employer, American Medical Response (AMR), subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her pregnancy, childbirth, and status as a nursing mother. When Ms. Stumpf stood up for her rights, AMR retaliated against her by demoting her from a Field Training Officer position and preventing her promotion twice over two years.

MHB attorneys Katie Chamberlain and Sam Kramer represented Stumpf in the two-week jury trial. The jury found that AMR discriminated against Stumpf based on her gender and pregnancy and allowed its employees to harass and retaliate against her.

Stumpf had worked as a paramedic for Rural Metro Ambulance since 2009. AMR acquired Rural Metro in 2015. In 2014, when Stumpf became pregnant, her doctor placed her on lifting restrictions and limited her to an 8-hour work day. Rather than accommodating her with light-duty work, as it did for other workers, AMR forced Stumpf onto unpaid leave, causing her to lose her salary and health benefits.

In the fall of 2015, when Stumpf returned to work after the birth of her baby girl, the company engaged in what a juror described after the verdict as a “perfect storm” of negative employment decisions. AMR stripped Stumpf of her seniority, which forced her to go back to working night shifts, and took away her Field Training Officer position, a promotion she received before becoming pregnant. Witnesses testified at trial that male crew members complained about Stumpf taking breaks to pump milk for her baby and began referring to her as “the milk truck.” On a daily basis, supervisors heard harassing comments against Stumpf, including one comment that she should just “hook a catheter to those things” instead of taking pump breaks.

When Stumpf reported the harassment, AMR failed to put an end to these comments. Instead, the company instituted restrictive rules about where Stumpf could pump milk, forcing her to drive miles through traffic each day to pump at the company’s main office, where she was subjected to ongoing harassment. The company caused Stumpf so much stress that her milk production stopped. Evidence presented at trial showed that Stumpf was not the only paramedic to have been mistreated after becoming pregnant.

After a two-week trial, the six-person jury made up of five men and one woman deliberated for two days before reaching a unanimous verdict, providing powerful vindication to Stumpf. “I just want to thank the jury for approaching my case with an open mind and for reaching a just result. This means so much to me and my family, and I hope that AMR will change its practices to be more friendly to working mothers,” she said. Stumpf continues to work for AMR as a paramedic in the greater Tacoma area.

MHB’s victory on behalf of Danielle Stumpf is part of our commitment to battling pregnancy discrimination and fighting for fair treatment of working parents throughout Washington state. Companies cannot place discriminatory barriers in front of new parents when they are expecting a baby or returning to work.

Federal Court Awards $1.8 million to Employee Wrongfully Terminated by Snohomish County PUD for her Disability

Federal District Court Judge John C. Coughenour today ordered the Snohomish County PUD to pay $1.8 million to a former customer service representative, after it wrongfully terminated her for perceived side effects from prescription medications for her chronic migraine headaches.

Coughenour said the PUD failed to accommodate Cynthia Stewart’s disability, and discriminated against her because of it, writing the PUD should have: “treated her as an employee with a medical condition, rather than a drug abuser.”

Ms. Stewart suffered debilitating migraine headaches the entire 23 years she worked as a customer services representative for the PUD.  In 2013, PUD supervisors began expressing frustration at Ms. Stewart’s need for time off to receive treatment for her migraines.  In October 2014, a supervisor claimed that Ms. Stewart showed signs of impairment after she returned from her doctor’s office where she received a shot of pain medication.  Even though the PUD knew any side-effects were a direct result of the medication prescribed for her disability, it forced Ms. Stewart to sign a last-chance agreement as a condition of her returning to work – effectively threatening to fire Ms. Stewart if it ever again suspected she suffered such side effects.  In April 2015, the PUD again suspected Ms. Stewart of being impaired after a doctor’s visit, and terminated her employment.  “The PUD treated Ms. Stewart like a drug addict and criminal, rather than accommodate her disability as the law requires,” said Shaeffer.

Washington law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and prohibits employers from taking disciplinary actions against employees for their disabilities, including disability-related conduct or medication side effects.

“This is a victory for all Washington employees who suffer from a disability.  Employees should be able to seek appropriate medical treatment without fear of losing their jobs,” said Joe Shaeffer, one of Ms. Stewart’s attorneys.

The damages award included compensation for lost wages, lost pension, and emotional distress.  The Court also directed the parties to apply for an award of attorney’s fees and costs, as well as an award to compensate Ms. Stewart for adverse tax consequences of the award.

Ms. Stewart was represented by Joe Shaeffer, Katie Chamberlain, and Sam Kramer of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless.

Supreme Court Reinstates Pregnant Worker’s Discrimination Claim

The United States Supreme Court overturned the dismissal of an employee’s claim against UPS (United Parcel Service) for pregnancy discrimination on Wednesday, March 25, 2015.  Peggy Young worked as a part-time delivery driver.  When she became pregnant, her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, then no more than 10 pounds until after delivery.  UPS refused to accommodate her request for light duty, even though it allowed such accommodations for employees injured on the job, employees with a qualifying disability under the ADA, and even employees who had lost their DOT driving privileges, including a driver who had been convicted of DUI.  Ms. Young was forced from work onto unpaid leave, and soon lost her health benefits. Lower courts dismissed her claim for pregnancy discrimination, but the Supreme Court reinstated it and confirmed the right to accommodation for pregnant workers when their employer accommodates employees who are not pregnant and who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

The Court held that discrimination can be shown a number of ways, including through proof that “the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers” and the employer’s reason for doing so is not sufficiently strong to justify the burden on pregnant workers.  The Court rejected UPS’s argument that because the terms of its accommodation policies were ”pregnancy-neutral,” discrimination could not be afoot.  And, the Court noted that employers may also be required to accommodate pregnant workers with certain impairments under the amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you believe that your employer has failed to accommodate your pregnancy-related work restrictions, or has otherwise treated you less favorably because of your pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related medical conditions, or has failed to provide you leave from work due to pregnancy complications or to recover from childbirth, please contact us for a consultation. Jesse WingJoe ShaefferKatie Chamberlain and Leslie Hagin MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, (206) 622-1604.