Disney’s Win on Pregnancy Discrimination Claim Shows Why Men Should Be Protected under Discrimination Laws Too
Steven Van Soeren was a product designer at Disney Streaming Services when he suffered a “pattern and practice of discrimination” because of his wife’s pregnancy. Soeren was subject to insults from coworkers, his home computer was hacked, and he was paid less than Disney had promised.
Soeren contended the hacking was work related when co-workers began to reference and insult him for things he talked about at home or viewed on his home computer, including his wife’s pregnancy. Soeren hadn’t disclosed this to his office when the harassment began. Soeren’s boss told him that he “shouldn’t have a kid” and Soeren was interrogated regarding his wife’s pregnancy. Soeren was also doused in baby powder at one point.
Soeren claimed that Human Resources told him he could resign after he reported these incidents. Soeren didn’t and was terminated without cause or severance after taking his paternity leave and returning to work.
Soeren filed a pregnancy discrimination claim against Disney, but his claim was dismissed under both federal and New York state law. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that the Civil Rights act only provides protections to an employee who is actually pregnant. As Soeren was not pregnant, he could not be afforded protection under the Civil Rights Act for pregnancy discrimination.
Anti-Pregnancy Discrimination Laws Should be Extended to Men
The law understandably only protects women against pregnancy discrimination. It is not because the law is biased against men (far from it), but because only women can become pregnant. However, Soeren’s case emphasizes that pregnancy discrimination can impact men as well, even in an allegedly family friendly company like Disney.
Soeren was terminated when he returned from paternity leave. Although Judge Buchwald determined that this was not a violation of state anti-pregnancy discrimination laws, such a ruling fundamentally undermines the very purpose of these laws. Taking paternity leave means that the employee is taking a break for legally protected reasons. Forcing that same employee out immediately after the leave is over would only discourage other employees from taking paternity leave in the future.
Protecting both men and women from pregnancy discrimination would be a net gain for the entire family. Soeren was fired right after his wife had an infant child – Soeren would need to find a new job right when the family requires a stable income. This will put more stress on the mother to go back to work sooner and/or find more income herself. Soeren’s family may not have the money to properly feed, clothe, and raise their new baby through no fault of their own.
Extending pregnancy discrimination protection to men would also help foster equality between the sexes. Women are often paid less than their male counterparts because they take maternity leave and/or their employer anticipates they will request maternity leave. Since men often don’t have the same discrimination protections, companies may make pay decisions without considering whether men may request paternity leave. More equal pregnancy discrimination may help close the income gap between the genders.
The government itself may have a significant interest in extending pregnancy discrimination protection to men. If Soeren is forced to file for food stamps, unemployment, or welfare, it will be the taxpayers who will be forced to pay for Disney’s poor supervision of their employees. Moreover, extending pregnancy discrimination protection is in America’s best interests. Extending discrimination protection would encourage more young couples to have children and encourage young fathers to spend more time with their children. More children being born in a healthier environment will lead to more productive citizens when the children grow up and have families of their own.
Do I Need Help from a Lawyer for Pregnancy Discrimination?
Anti-discrimination laws are often challenging for a person to properly file and argue their discrimination claim without the assistance of a lawyer. If you have any questions, concerns, or are involved in a dispute regarding a claim for pregnancy discrimination, then you may want to consider contacting a local employment lawyer as soon as possible.