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

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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