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Jury to decide whether woman was fired for being pregnant

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of a company on a fired employee’s claim that her employment was terminated because she was pregnant, finding the company’s explanations for her firing were shifting, inconsistent, and/or facially implausible.

Jennifer Hitchcock worked as a client services supervisor for Angel Corps, a non-medical home care agency that performs personal care services for clients. After her supervisor learned Hitchcock was three months pregnant, the supervisor asked if Hitchcock would be “quitting.” She also increased Hitchcock’s workload to include tasks that were normally performed by someone else.

Several weeks later, Hitchcock went to a home of a new client to do an assessment. This appointment had to be rescheduled because Hitchcock was ill on the original date a few days earlier. Hitchcock got an uneasy feeling from the son regarding his 100-year-old mother and when she saw the woman, thought she may be sick or dead. Hitchcock left and told her supervisor, who then called adult protection services, who then instructed them to call emergency personnel. The woman had been dead for several days.

Angel Corps fired her nearly a month later. Reasons given for the termination included that she performed a full admission on an expired client, although she did this at the request of the supervisor; that Hitchcock compromised the health and safety of the client; and she performed a deficient assessment on the potential client, but there was no explanation how the assessment was deficient.  

Hitchcock sued alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Magistrate Judge Roger B. Cosbey granted summary judgment to Angel Corps.

Judge Ann Claire Williams pointed to the four potentially different explanations given for Hitchcock’s firing and how their inconsistency or suspicion create a reasonable inference that they do not reflect the real reason for Hitchcock’s firing.

“Angel Corps’s brief attempts to make sense out of these disparate explanations, but it does so by piling on additional ever-evolving justifications that may cause a reasonable juror to wonder whether Angel Corps can ever get its story straight,” she wrote in Jennifer Hitchcock v. Angel Corps, Inc., 12-3515.

The judges also noted that Hitchcock’s supervisor gave her more work to perform after learning she was pregnant and asked if she was “quitting.” An affidavit from a former co-worker who was pregnant while at Angel Corps said that the supervisor suggested that employee get an abortion when learning she was pregnant.

“In sum, we find that the evidence provides a sufficient basis for a rational jury to conclude that Hitchcock was fired because she was pregnant. Naturally, Angel Corps disputes several of the critical factual assertions made by Hitchcock. We leave it to the jury to decide whom to believe,” Williams wrote.

 

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