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California composer/conductor alleges pregnancy discrimination

A California music composer and conductor has filed a complaint against her former employer, alleging that she was terminated for being pregnant and asking for accommodations. According to the complaint, she asked to either spend less time talking between pieces during the show in which she was performing (a symphony “based on themes from Nintendo’s Zelda video games”) or be allowed to sit on a stool while speaking. The 36-year-old conductor says she made this request after becoming dizzy onstage in her 26th week of pregnancy. According to her complaint, the San Francisco-based production company behind the touring show denied that request and fired her the following month.

Although she has not yet filed a lawsuit, the conductor has filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. She is alleging that the production company retaliated against her because she asked for special accommodations and did not inform her of her legal rights. The complaint requests payment for the shows in which she was not allowed to perform. However, the complaint is about more than money. She and her husband hope to discourage other employers from discriminating against pregnant women.

The owner of the production company reportedly acknowledged to the woman’s attorney that they took her off the tour “out of fear for her health.” After he found out she had become dizzy onstage, he says he was “scared” that she would collapse during a performance. He claims he did not fire her, but told her to stop working temporarily and “focus on having a baby.” He says the company decided not to bring her back because she had another project that was a “conflict of interest” with the show.

Under California law, employers are not allowed to harass or discriminate against pregnant workers, and they must provide “reasonable accommodation.” One California attorney says she has seen an uptick in such cases in the slow economy because employers are expecting more than ever from each worker. Equal rights advocates also say that in industries comprised predominantly of men, including classical music, such discrimination is still “rampant.”

It was not reported whether the woman plans to file a lawsuit. Often, complaints to state authorities are a precursor to civil litigation. Employment attorneys can advise employees who believe they have been discriminated against solely because they are pregnant on the best course of action for their situation.

Source: East Bay Express, “Fired for Being Pregnant?” Sam Levin, Jan. 22, 2014

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