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Employer May Use “Business Judgment” To Fire Pregnant Employee

After being offered the position of personal assistant to the manager of Star Wars creator George Lucas’ home in San Anselmo, Julie Veronese was unable to begin work due to a pregnancy-related illness. Her start date was pushed back until Veronese’s boss, Sarita Patel, determined that the job would not be a good fit for her because of the duties of the position.

Veronese received a letter of termination on August 8, just over one month after she signed the offer of employment on June 25, 2008. A new assistant was hired that month and Veronese complained of the mistreatment to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Veronese succeeded at trial on three claims and was awarded $113,830 by the jury for lost compensation attributable to pregnancy discrimination, wrongful termination and the failure by Lucasfilm to prevent discrimination.

Lucasfilm appealed the jury verdict and it was recently overturned by a California appeals court in California’s First Appellate District. According to the court, the jury should have been instructed that Lucasfilm was legally allowed to use its “business judgment” to change Veronese duties at any time or to terminate her employment.

The court vacated a $1.2 million award of attorney’s fees to Veronese’s legal team and sent the pregnancy discrimination case back to the trial court. Veronese’s attorneys are considering appealing the case to the California Supreme Court.

Source: Mercury News, “Lucasfilm wins appeal of pregnancy discrimination suit; $1.2 million in fees vacated,” December 11, 2012

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