Getting demoted because you’re pregnant is bad enough. But imagine if your replacement had almost no experience and had been accused of sexual harassment? That’s just adding insult to injury.
To make matters even worse, imagine that your employer then retaliated against you because you reported allegations of sexual harassment against the very person who took your job after your demotion. It may sound like a movie premise, but it’s what an assistant principal recently had to face when she became pregnant.
Anne Williams Dorsey started her career as a teacher in the Palm Beach County School District in 1992. She eventually worked her way up the school ladder, becoming an assistant principal in 2002. Throughout her career as a teacher and an assistant principal, Dorsey received consistently positive performance reviews.
In 2008, Dorsey was assigned to be a “226” assistant principal at a school in Palm Beach County. This position meant that she was an assistant principal assigned to work 226 paid days each year. At her school, there were two assistant principal positions: a “226” assistant principal and a “260” assistant principal.
In exchange for working an additional 34 days, the 260 assistant principal received higher annual compensation and more accrued vacation days. Darren Edgecomb was the principal of Dorsey’s school and Dorsey’s direct supervisor.
For the 2009–2010 school year, Dorsey was promoted to the 260 assistant principal position, and Randy Burden took over as the 226 assistant principal. Because this was Burden’s first assistant principal job, Dorsey trained Burden throughout the school year and took on additional responsibilities as the “lead” assistant principal.
In May 2010, Dorsey informed Edgecomb of her plans to become pregnant. In June 2010, Edgecomb promoted Burden to the lead assistant principal, although Dorsey remained in her position as the 260 assistant principal. Edgecomb explained that he wanted a man to be the lead assistant principal and made it evident that he wanted to be Burden’s mentor.
In August 2010, Dorsey informed Edgecomb that she was pregnant. During the 2010–2011 school year, Dorsey noticed that she was being left out of important meetings and e-mails. Dorsey expressed her concern about this exclusion to Edgecomb, but he dismissed her questions as “woman’s issues.”
In early 2011, Dorsey learned that Burden was allegedly sexually harassing another teacher. Dorsey reported the complaint to Edgecomb, but he persuaded the teacher not to file a formal sexual harassment complaint.
Dorsey began her unpaid maternity leave in March 2011 and went into labor on April 12, 2011. That same day, Edgecomb called Dorsey to tell her that she was being demoted to the 226 assistant principal position. This demotion amounted to a pay cut of about $15,000 per year.
Dorsey’s Legal Action
On January 30, 2012, Dorsey filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) about these events. The EEOC concluded that reasonable cause existed to believe that Dorsey was the victim of unlawful discrimination and retaliation. With no success in reaching a settlement between Dorsey and the school district, the EEOC referred Dorsey’s case to the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), which sued the school district on Dorsey’s behalf.
It’s helpful to understand a few legal terms. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee because the employee engaged in a protected activity. An adverse employment action includes things like getting a demotion or pay cut. A protected activity refers to an employee’s protected legal right to do something.
In its complaint, the DOJ alleged two causes of action: sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Specifically, the DOJ claimed that Edgecomb decided to remove Dorsey from the lead assistant principal and 260 assistant principal positions because she was a woman, she was pregnant, and she reported the sexual harassment allegations made by another teacher concerning Burden.
In early January 2017, the DOJ and the school district settled the case for $350,000. Additionally, the school district had to submit updated anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies to the DOJ. The school district also agreed to include pregnancy as a protected class in its anti-discrimination policy.
To learn more about sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, please see the EEOC’s “Sex-Based Discrimination” and “Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues” webpages.
Summing It Up
- Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on pregnancy status.
- Title VII also makes it unlawful for an employer to punish an employee for exercising his or her rights under Title VII. These rights include reporting sexual harassment allegations.
Have you experienced discrimination because of your gender or your pregnancy status or because you reported a claim of sexual harassment? Please contact our office and let us help you understand your rights and figure out what to do next.