Today, Legal Voice submitted an amicus brief urging the Washington Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision in Brooks v. BPM Senior Living Company, a case regarding workplace discrimination and retaliation based on pregnancy and maternity leave. This case presents issues of significant public interest to Washington’s women workers, who frequently are subjected to changes in their working conditions after becoming pregnant or giving birth.
Elizabeth Brooks had an excellent employment record and had never received negative feedback or criticism. Shortly after announcing she was pregnant, her employer, BPM, began criticizing her work. Once the baby was born, she took maternity leave, but cut it short when she received multiple indications, beginning just four days after she gave birth, that her job was in jeopardy. Her employer told Brooks she would be fired, and then withdrew the threat. Her work conditions suddenly became more demanding, with the employer scrutinizing her work more closely and increasing travel demands. As a breastfeeding mother, her milk began to dry up from stress and, ultimately, she separated from her employment within less than six months of having her baby.
Experiences such as Ms. Brooks’ are not uncommon, as women make up roughly half of all U.S. workers, and the majority of mothers work outside the home. However, the trial court ruled against Brooks on her claims. Even though BPM warned her that her job was in jeopardy, the court held there had not been adverse action, so her discrimination and retaliation claims failed. Further, because BPM’s communications were not “abusive,” the court held Ms. Brooks did not establish a hostile working environment. In addition, because she had been able to take leave, the court held BPM had not “interfered” with her right to take maternity leave. Brooks also brought a disability discrimination claim because the stress from BPM’s imposing increased travel requirements caused a decrease in her breastmilk.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, and Ms. Brooks has petitioned the WA Supreme Court to review the case. Legal Voice’s brief urges the WA Supreme Court to accept review to assure that proper standards for determining claims of sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and interference with family leave are applied in this case, as well as in future cases.