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Merry Maids franchisee settles EEOC pregnancy bias suit for $40,000

Merry Maids franchisee settles EEOC pregnancy bias suit for $40,000

A Wisconsin Merry Maids franchisee has agreed to pay $40,000 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, the agency said.

Kenosha, Wisconsin-based V&B L.L.C., a franchisee of Merry Maids, which is a unit of Memphis, Tennessee-based ServiceMaster Co., was charged with firing Belinda Sternemann in 2011 because she suffered from pregnancy-related issues, the EEOC said Tuesday in a statement.

Ms. Sternemann, a military veteran who had worked for V&B for more than two years, was a team captain on one of V&B’s crews and had an unblemished work record, the EEOC said in its statement. The agency said her pregnancy issues were alleged to be minor and did not prevent her from working.

The settlement agreement provides that in addition to paying Ms. Sternemann the $40,000, the company will train its managers regarding employee rights and employers’ obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC said.

“Sometimes employers overreact and base employment decisions on an employee’s pregnancy,” said EEOC Chicago regional attorney John C. Hendrickson, in the statement. “Federal law assures pregnant women that they have the same right as other people to earn a living.”

“The ADA requires employers to engage in discussions with employees they believe to be disabled before taking any action which would affect their employment rights. We’re pleased that the consent decree in this case provides fair compensation to Ms. Sternemann for the violation of her rights and includes terms which should preclude similar problems in the future,” Mr. Hendrickson said.

The company’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

The EEOC’s issuance in July of updated guidance for pregnancy discrimination has generated controversy as legal experts debate the scope and timing of the new rules.

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