A federal judge was recently on Disney’s side after a former employee sued the company when he was released from paternity leave shortly after his return.
A judge recently ruled in Disney’s favor after a former employee sued the company for being fired on paternity leave. The lawsuit was originally filed by Steven Van Soeren, who works for the Disney Streaming Service. Why was the lawsuit filed?
Mother holding baby; Image courtesy of Jessicaicaichichkent via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com
According to the lawsuit, Van Soeren noticed discrimination and harassment from his colleagues before he even told them that his wife was expecting it and that he wanted to take paternity leave. The suit further stated:
“The plaintiff was expecting a child, but he did not share this information with anyone at the company… Mr. McConnell did [Soeren’s supervisor]In an unrelated conversation, the plaintiff blurted out, “Maybe you shouldn’t have a child.” Likewise, Mr. Paglia [a co-worker] sent the plaintiff unsolicited video of children developing in the womb. The same sentiments were expressed by Jennifer Kaufmann, deputy director of UX & Design, who asked if the plaintiff had a good reason for having a child. Mr. McConnell also stated, within earshot of the plaintiff, “I don’t know why him [Plaintiff] decided to have a child. At 30 my wife and I thought about it but decided we’d wait until 40. ‘”
Again, all of this was said before Van Soeren even told them his wife was expecting. Van Soeren is concerned and genuinely intimidated, believing “it indicated that the company was somehow spying on his personal communications.” He brought his concern to the HR department, but nothing was done. When his child was born, he took two weeks of paternity leave. When he returned to work, “despite his clearly positive performance reviews, he was fired without warning.”
As a result, Van Soeren sued the company on the grounds that his “termination was the result of retaliatory discrimination against him for claiming paternity”. In June Disney filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming “pregnancy discrimination laws only protect pregnant workers.” US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed with Disney and concluded: “Van Soeren cannot pass the first test of a Title VII claim because he is not a member of a protected class.” She added, “Being a new parent is not enough … Title VII does not protect a worker whose spouse is pregnant.”
It is important to note that no one disagreed that Van Soeren was fired in retaliation for the birth of a child. Simply put, the court didn’t think it mattered because he wasn’t the one who gave birth physically. Because of this, he is not considered a protected group of people, as a pregnant woman would if she were suddenly terminated for maternity leave.
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