Is it legal to fire an employee 2 days prior to returning from maternity leave?

I was informed 12/28 my position was eliminated. I was scheduled to return from maternity leave 01/02. An employee remains with my title but I was told even though she is keeping the title she is not over the team I was a district manager. The practices of the company have been unethical from the beginning. For example, I was instructed only to hire attractive females who represent the brand of the

company. After I announced I was pregnant I was removed from district manager to account manager with no pay difference and my title remaining district manager. I was told this change would

Asked on December 29, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

There are actually three different (but related) questions or issues in your question:
1) Can you terminate an employee shortly before returning from maternity leave? Yes, IF there is  legitimate non-discriminatory (against women) or non-retaliatory (for using leave reason), like a true restructuring or downsizing that had nothing to do with that specific employee or her leave.
2) Was *this* termination valid? That depends on whether it looks like there was a true non-discriminatory reason, or whether the real reason was to discriminate or retaliate and any other claimed reason is a pretense. If this was not due to a legimitimate non-discriminatory reason, then it was likely one or both of illegal anti-woman discrimination (since only women are pregnant or have babies, to discriminate against someone for this is to discriminate against women) or illegal retaliation for using maternity leave.
In terms of this: the fact that the person who replaced you has less authority suggests that there was  a restructuring, BUT the evidence of anti-female bias strongly undercuts that--
a) Told to hire only attractive women;
b) Job changed when you told them you were pregnant;
c) The person who replaced you is a woman, true, but they took authority away from the position--i.e. there is an element of denigrating women's authority.
Based on what you write, this may have been illegal.
3) Similarly, there was other anti-women harassment or discrimination going on, which  may be actionable above and beyond the issue of termination.
It would be worth your while to contact the federal EEOC about possibly filing a complaint. Good luck.


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