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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues