Trane subsidiary of Ingersoll Rand to pay for firing woman over pregnancy

TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that Trane U.S. Inc., a subsidiary of Ingersoll Rand, has agreed to pay a former employee $55,000 to resolve allegations that it discriminated by terminating the woman after she took doctor-prescribed medical leave to accommodate the final weeks of her pregnancy.
In addition to paying former assembler Charnelle Gilliard, of Ewing Township, Trane must pay $15,000 to the Division on Civil Rights. Trane also must implement a number of reforms including creation of a written policy making clear that medical leave for normal pregnancy will be treated the same as leave taken for any other medical condition or disability.

The policy also must clearly state that when a pregnant employee is approved – on the basis of her condition as pregnant — for short-term disability benefits by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, she will be deemed eligible for leave from work without being required to answer additional questions about her medical condition or showing proof of disability. (Earlier this year, an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination or “LAD” was enacted that adds pregnancy as a protected classification.)

“This is an important settlement, because the impact of pregnancy on one’s employment situation is an issue that concerns all of us,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “At the time of this incident in 2012, the LAD had not yet been amended to include pregnancy as a protected classification. However, the LAD did prohibit sex discrimination, and the courts have interpreted sex discrimination to include discrimination based on pregnancy.”

“Now that the LAD has been amended,” Hoffman added, “all employers need to make certain their policies, as well as their handling of situations involving pregnant employees, reflect a clear understanding of the rights of those workers.”

Gilliard began working for Trane as an assembler at the company’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturing plant in Trenton in July 2010. On the advice of her pre-natal care physician, she stopped working in May 2012.

At around the same time, she applied to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and was approved for temporary disability benefits due to her pregnancy.

In filling out the paperwork required to certify Gilliard’s qualification for benefits, Gillard’s pre-natal care physician wrote that she should stop working by May 15, 2012, that her expected delivery date was June 12, and that she was expected to return to work on July 24. The doctor listed Gilliard’s primary diagnosis as “prenatal care,” and wrote “pregnancy 35+ weeks” where the form asked for medical signs and symptoms. He initially left blank a section asking for a rationale for disability leave, but later added the language, “Followed State of New Jersey regulations.”

After the paperwork was submitted on behalf of Gilliard, a third-party benefits administrator called the pre-natal care physician seeking further information as to Gilliard’s disability leave. The physician told the benefits administrator that although Gilliard’s pregnancy was normal and without complications, he advised her that she should stop working on May 15 due to how far along she was in her pregnancy.

Trane then sent a letter to Gilliard informing her that, because it had not received a satisfactory explanation for her absence from work since May 13, 2012, the absence was unapproved. The letter warned that if Trane was not provided an explanation by June 5, Gilliard’s employment would be terminated.

On June 6, 2012, the third-party benefits administrator again contacted Gilliard’s pre-natal care physician. A nurse at the office again explained that no reason other than the pregnancy was required to support Gilliard’s medical leave request, and that the doctor was following New Jersey state regulations.

Trane refused to accept Gilliard’s request for medical leave for standard prenatal care and delivery during her final weeks of a normal pregnancy and terminated her employment retroactive to her last day of work in May.

In settling the matter, Trane denied allegations of discrimination brought by Gilliard and the Division on Civil rights, and made no admission of wrongdoing.

Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara noted that, in addition to developing a written policy that addresses medical leave taken for pregnancy, Trane is required under the settlement to conspicuously post the new policy and distribute the policy to its third-party benefits administrator with an explanation that the policy now controls determination of employee eligibility for related benefits and medical leave.

Sashihara explained that Trane’s parent company, Ingersoll Rand, has agreed to revise its anti-discrimination policy to reflect the inclusion of pregnancy as a separate, protected class under the LAD. It also has agreed to make the revised policy applicable to all Ingersoll Rand facilities in New Jersey, and arrange for all management staff and human resources personnel who work in or have responsibility for any Ingersoll Rand operations in New Jersey to attend training on the LAD and the revised policy.

“Because Ingersoll Rand has approximately 12 facilities in New Jersey, this settlement should benefit hundreds of hard working citizens and their families,” said Sashihara.

Director Sashihara thanked Deputy Attorney General Megan Harris, assigned to the Division of Law’s Civil Rights section, and Investigator Kimberly Arroyo for their work on the settlement and underlying investigation.

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