A federal agency is accusing a West Sacramento security services firm of unlawfully refusing to allow a security officer to return to work after maternity leave.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday in Sacramento federal court alleging that when security guard Tabitha Feeney contacted Quest Intelligence Group, LLC, in 2008 to schedule her return to work after taking leave to have a baby, she was told there was no work for her and she would be called if work became available.
Feeney was hired in early 2007 and had worked for the company about a year before she started her leave.
The company never contacted her about resuming working, yet an EEOC investigation showed that Quest solicited applications for security guard positions and hired several men within weeks of Feeney's request to return to work, according to the suit.
Dale Price, Quest general manager, said Thursday, "We deny all the charges and plan to pursue it through trial. I'm surprised they are pursuing it, even though they have been telling me for years that they would. I am confident the company will prevail." Price was traveling, had not seen the suit, and would not discuss specifics.
An EEOC news release quotes Feeney, 46, as saying that "a brand-new job search right after giving birth was incredibly stressful. I had planned on going back to my job, and it was devastating to lose that."
The agency seeks lost wages, damages for emotional distress and punitive damages to discourage the conduct generally, all on behalf of Feeney, as well as a court order mandating training for Quest managers and employees in employers' legal obligations, plus compliance monitoring by the EEOC.
Only after attempting to reach a voluntary settlement did the EEOC sue, the release said. The agency enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. It goes to court on behalf of complaining parties in cases that it views as aggravated instances of discrimination.
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo noted in the release that the number of complaints filed with the agency by women in the workplace alleging pregnancy discrimination averaged about 6,000 for the fiscal years 2007 to 2011.
Michael Baldonado, director of the agency's San Francisco-based district that includes Sacramento, said in the release, "The EEOC has seen pregnancy- and caregiving-related claims increase along with the economic crisis, and so we will vigorously defend workers' rights in this area."