Bendinelli Law Firm Pays $30,000 in EEOC Settlement 

The firm settled a pregnancy discrimination case with a former legal assistant 

A Colorado personal injury firm agreed to a settlement in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Bendinelli Law Firm, which has offices in Denver, Westminster and Fort Collins, agreed to pay a former employee $30,000 and enact new anti-discrimination policies as a result of the settlement, the EEOC announced Thursday. For the EEOC, the case’s facts are a common occurrence for pregnant women, and many women — as well as the employers — aren’t aware of the requirements of the law.

The law firm hired Jennifer Rodriguez as a legal assistant for its Denver office in January 2017. At the time she was hired, Rodriguez was approximately six to seven months pregnant, according to the complaint. After about 10 days on the job, she disclosed her pregnancy to a firm associate who then told the firm founding shareholder, and she was fired the following day. According to the complaint, she was also asked if she suffered from any complications due to the pregnancy, whether she would “keep the baby” and whether she was acting as a surrogate.

Also according to the EEOC, the law firm’s explanation for Rodriguez’s termination was because she failed to disclose her pregnancy in the interview, a move the EEOC challenged as unlawful and discriminatory.

Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District, which includes Colorado, said employers often feel “hoodwinked” by prospective employees who do not disclose a pregnancy and later request leave, but employers may not ask about pregnancies and job applicants have no duty to disclose a pregnancy. She said the fact pattern of the case is “very typical.”

“Women are of course afraid to tell prospective or even current employers they’re pregnant because of bad employers,” she said. “Most women take leave after they have their baby, and there seems to be intolerance among employers about that need.”

O’Neill said such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits pregnancy discrimination in employment.

The law firm was made the subject of the lawsuit after earlier settlement agreements failed following an EEOC investigation regarding the discrimination claims.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the September 24, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.