A Santa Monica bus driver fired about a week after telling her boss that she was pregnant successfully persuaded a jury that she was discriminated against by her employer, the City of Santa Monica. But the City appealed and the California Supreme Court reversed that decision, sending Wynona Harris back to the trial court to try again.
Harris had been hired by Big Blue Bus, the city-owned bus service in Santa Monica, in 2004. She was given training for the first 40 days of her employment and despite getting into a minor accident was told she was doing well and should “Keep up the great job!” according to her pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.
Harris had another accident within 90 days of her date of hire, the probationary period for new bus drivers, and according to the City of Santa Monica, had some attendance issues. At least twice she had not reported on time for her scheduled shift and had not provided notice to the bus company so that it could find a replacement.
Transit Services Manager Bob Ayer noted after the second issue with her attendance that Harris did not meet the requirements for maintaining her job with the City. Four days later she told the bus company that she was pregnant. Two days later she was fired.
The jury awarded her $177,000 in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the City. But, the California Supreme Court recently held that Harris did not have a claim for pregnancy discrimination if she would have been fired for another legal reason.
The City should have been allowed to present a mixed-motive defense, showing that the illegal reason – such as discrimination based on race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristic such as pregnancy – was not substantial motivation for Harris’ was termination.
Source: Metropolitan News-Enterprise, “High Court Delivers Mixed Ruling in Mixed-Motive Job-Bias Case,” February 8, 2013