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Legal Aid of Nebraska client receives settlement after pregnancy discrimination case at meat packing plant

OMAHA, NE – Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can have serious implications for a family, job security, stress, mental health issues, and pregnancy outcomes. Despite preventative laws, pregnancy discrimination still happens within the workplace. Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Agricultural Worker Rights Program help individuals facing discrimination in Nebraska.

Maria*, a Legal Aid of Nebraska client, worked as an inspector in a meat packing plant, ensuring the product was not contaminated.

As a single mother, Maria often had childcare duties come up, such as taking her son to doctor’s appointments and school meetings. Because of her son’s health issues, these appointments became increasingly important to attend. Maria occasionally needed permission from her workplace to leave to attend such meetings and appointments.

Maria’s supervisor often denied her requests which created difficulties in Maria’s life, and began affecting her son’s wellness. This supervisor threatened Maria’s job security, often telling her she needed to stop asking for time off, or she would face consequences. Maria provided doctor’s notes as proof for her needing to leave work, however, this was not enough to prevent the threats. Maria decided to turn to her workplace’s union for help.

When Maria found out she was pregnant, she requested reasonable accommodations. Maria was told that she would be in trouble if she continued to take extra restroom breaks. Maria worried about the possibility of being a single mother, pregnant, and losing the job that sustains her family. Maria then informed her supervisor verbally that she was pregnant, explaining why she had been needing to use the restroom more frequently. She tried to explain this was a medical and physical aspect of pregnancy that she could not control. Maria was met once again with a response saying that she would not be allowed to continue to take extra breaks, and if she did, there would be consequences. Maria’s concerns were completely disregarded.

The following week Maria was on the line working and she felt that she needed to use the restroom. She attempted to call her supervisor over, explaining her situation. Her supervisor told her to wait a moment and left her still standing in the inspection line. She could not wait any longer to use the restroom and urinated while in the inspection line in her clothing. Maria feared she would lose her job if she left her position on the line after her supervisor directed her stay there. Her supervisor was upset and sent her away to change.

“[The supervisor] started to try to make me feel uncomfortable and make me nervous. Everything started getting worse so at one point it started affecting me and my pregnancy because I became depressed, I had anxiety, I had to take medications,” Maria said.

It was no longer healthy for her to continue working under such stress. Her doctor informed her that there would be serious health consequences for her and her baby so Maria left her job at the meat packing plant.

Maria reached out to the Consulate of Mexico’s Department of Protection, where she was referred to Legal Aid of Nebraska. Danny Reynaga, Agricultural Worker Rights Program managing attorney was able to inform Maria of her rights and help her continue the legal process with the union.

“Far too many pregnant workers in Nebraska are subjected to unfair and discriminatory treatment. This discrimination can take the form of demeaning or inappropriate comments, or can even be as severe as being fired from a job,” Reynaga said. “Pregnant workers deserve respect and employers need to be held accountable when they violate those rights afforded to their pregnant employees under laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Pump Act, and now, the all new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.”

Legal Aid was able to get Maria a settlement and she is now enjoying working at a new place of employment. The settlement has also helped her take care of her young children. Without Legal Aid, Maria would have been able to afford a private attorney or have the opportunity for a fair legal process. Maria’s significant financial, family, health, and job distress would not have been alleviated without access to equal justice.

Maria wants her story to encourage other pregnant women, single moms, and specifically Hispanic women, to stick up for their rights.

“I saw a lot of unfair things happen against the pregnant women. There are not a lot of accommodations, like the opportunity to have breaks or going to the restroom, to have a healthy pregnancy,” Maria said. “Legal Aid helped me to fight for my rights…sometimes we don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer…and Legal Aid gave me the opportunity to have a fair process.”

Maria’s determination got her through the situation, and Legal Aid of Nebraska was able to assist beside her, as she advocated for herself and her needs.

“It is because of brave people like Maria that the Ag Worker Rights Program exists!” Reynaga said. “[Maria] wanted to stand up for all the pregnant workers that were mistreated like her, and hopefully embolden others to stand up and fight for their rights.”

While Maria’s pursuit of justice is inspiring, her story is not an isolated incident. Pregnant individuals should not be facing this kind of discrimination in the workplace, and Legal Aid of Nebraska is working to make sure all individuals have access to that kind of equal justice.

“Even though we have more protections for pregnant workers now than ever before, not everyone knows about their rights. Unfortunately, even fewer are able to hire an attorney to help them navigate the tangled web of labor laws that may apply to their case,” Reynaga said. “By supporting Legal Aid of Nebraska, you can help to ensure that pregnant workers like Maria don’t have to choose between their health and safety, or their job.”

If you or someone you know is facing workplace discrimination, please contact our Statewide AccessLine at 1-877-250-2016 (Monday/Wednesday 8:30-11:30 AM, Tuesday/Thursday 1:00-3:00 PM).

*The client’s name has been changed to protect their identity.

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