ILNews

In vitro firing case one of first impression

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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In the first of its kinds for any federal appellate court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an Indiana woman who claimed she was wrongly fired for taking time off work to have in vitro fertilization.

The 7th Circuit issued its decision on the Illinois case Wednesday in Cheryl Hall v. Nalco Co., No. 06-3684, a case that could have implications for women workers across the country. The appellate panel reversed a ruling from U.S. District Judge David Coar in the Northern District of Illinois' Eastern Division, which granted summary judgment for the employer on the ground that Hall, as someone seeking surgical impregnation, didn't fall within a protected class and couldn't prove sex discrimination because infertility, the judge ruled, is a gender-neutral condition.

Hall worked as a sales secretary in the Chicago-area manufacturing office of the water treatment and chemical company, and in March 2003 requested a leave of absence for IVF after being diagnosed with infertility. She obtained about four weeks off but the treatment didn't work, and she applied for a second leave in the fall. The company in the meantime decided to merge two offices and eliminate her job, citing health-related absenteeism. The other employee retained was a female who since 1988 had also been unable to bear children.

In response, Hall filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then filed a federal suit claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and specifically that her firing violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that includes discrimination "because of or based on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."

But the 7th Circuit found the District judge's emphasis on "infertility alone" and application of caselaw was misplaced based on the facts of this case.

"The focus of any Title VII sex-discrimination claim is whether the employer treated the employee differently because of the employee's sex," Judge Diane Sykes wrote. "Although infertility affects both men and women, Hall claims she was terminated for undergoing a medical procedure ... performed only on women on account of their childbearing capacity. Because adverse employment actions taken on account of childbearing capacity affect only women, Hall has stated a cognizable sex-discrimination claim under the language of the PDA."

Judge Sykes noted that Hall's Title VII claim is an issue of first impression for the 7th Circuit, and the court isn't aware of any other Circuit Court addressing that precise question. The court also found that Hall's claim of pretext in her firing was a triable issue because she was told and management notes detail her health-related absenteeism as a factor in her firing. That is an issue for a jury to decide, the court determined.

Hall's attorney, Eugene Hollander in Chicago, said he was pleased for both women across the country and his client, who he said has been able to have children through IVF since this case began.

"She's waited many years for her day in court, and now it looks like it will happen," he said. "This is a very big landmark case and has a lot of importance for women across the country. Now, women employees can undergo non-traditional ways of getting pregnant without having to worry about retribution for taking time off work."

Nalco's attorney, Mark Lies II in Chicago, declined to comment on the case or ruling and said his firm has a policy against that.

Hollander told Indiana Lawyer this morning that he didn't yet know if Nalco's counsel would ask the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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