On June 18, an Orange County jury ruled against internet marketing company eGumball for unlawfully firing and discriminating against their own HR Manager upon her return from maternity leave. The company will pay the plaintiff, Kimberly Perry, more than $538,000 in damages.
In February 2013, Perry told her boss, John Bauer, that she was pregnant. Perry, who worked at eGumball for three years, went on maternity leave on August 30, 2013, approximately a week before her baby was due, and unexpectedly delivered a stillborn child.
On October 4, 2013, Perry informed Bauer via email that she intended to return to work at the end of the month. According to witnesses, this made Bauer uneasy, as he thought she would be depressed and gloomy after the traumatic incident and did not expect her to return from leave. Perry was immediately fired when she returned to work on October 31, 2013. In her three years as the HR Manager, Perry was never reprimanded in writing.
EGumball claimed the deficiencies were found as the result of an audit on the human resources department conducted during her absence. Jennifer Ferraris, Perry’s replacement at the company, said in a declaration submitted to the court that Bauer asked her to find an auditor with the goal of finding problems with Perry’s performance and “reasons for termination.” Ferraris said the audit findings were never addressed by the company after Perry was terminated.
Perry’s lawyers argued the audit was poorly conducted and fabricated as a pretext to fire her. Her lawyers argued that eGumball did not fully understand any of Perry’s performance problems until “after she left for maternity leave.” Perry was never brought in for questioning or to provide information for her own department’s audit.
The jury found that eGumball had wrongfully terminated Perry and violated California’s laws regarding pregnancy disability leave, sex discrimination, and disability discrimination. The jury awarded $138,000 in damages for economic loss and past emotional distress and $400,000 in punitive damages, for a total verdict of $538,000. EGumball is appealing the decision.
Employers need to understand pregnancy disability leave and maternity leave policies to help them deal with employees who are or were recently pregnant. If you have any questions regarding pregnancy disability leave and maternity leave policies, or any other legal inquiries, please contact the attorneys at Carlson & Jayakumar at (949) 222-2008 or visit us at www.cjattorneys.com.