ELK GROVE Calif. A Los Angeles-area restaurant operator was cited for sexual discrimination after punishing a worker who had breastfed her infant during a work break, according to a state civil protections commission.
In a ruling made public last week, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission in Elk Grove, Calif., ordered the owner of Acosta Tacos to pay former employee Marina Chavez $21,645 in lost wages and $20,000 for emotional distress, as well as a $5,000 fine to the state for a willful civil rights violation.
According to the complaint, Chavez gave birth to a premature baby in April 2007 and went back to work about 30 days later because she needed the money to support her family. On her third night back, her boyfriend brought the baby to work so she could nurse in the car during her lunch break.
The next night, the restaurant’s general manager, Jaime Acosta, told her not to come back to work until she was done nursing, the complaint said. Chavez said in the complaint that she couldn’t put off working that long, and Acosta fired her because he didn’t like her attitude.
Acosta told the San Francisco Chronicle that he fired Chavez for incompetence and insubordination.
The commission, however, said that breastfeeding, on an employee’s own time, is an activity intrinsic to being a woman and is also protected under California law.
“Ms. Chavez suffered an egregious violation of her civil rights that is not tolerated in California,” said Phyllis Cheng, director of the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. “The FEHA guarantees an employee who takes pregnancy disability leave the right to return to her former position when the leave ends. It is unconscionable that a working mother should be penalized for needing to feed her newborn baby, and the law ensures that her rights are protected.”
The commission found that Acosta Tacos also discriminated against Chavez by not holding her previous job as a cashier open during her maternity leave, instead, calling her in to fill shifts for absent employees.
The restaurant company must also develop a written policy, printed in English and Spanish, prohibiting sex and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, as well as offering employee training on the policy, the commission said.
According to news reports, Acosta Tacos owner Jesus Acosta is considering an appeal but might have to file for bankruptcy because of the damage award.