« Ind. Decisions - Two today from 7th Circuit | Main | Ind. Decisions - "Ex-county official’s conviction reversed" »

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ind. Decisions - "Dyer woman's in vitro court case first of its kind"

Joe Carlson reports today in the NWI Times:

CHICAGO | In a first-of-its-kind legal case that could have implications for women across the nation, federal judges have ruled that a Dyer woman should not have been fired for taking time off of work to undergo in vitro fertilization treatments.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Cheryl Hall was entitled to protection from gender discrimination because only women can become pregnant, and therefore firing someone for trying to become pregnant is a form of discrimination against women.

"It's not only a huge victory for Cheryl Hall but for women who are having trouble becoming pregnant," said Hall's attorney, Eugene Hollander, of Chicago. "They don't have to worry about retribution for taking time off of work to try to get pregnant."

It's the first case at the federal appeals level to decide the question of whether amendments to the Civil Rights Act outlawing sex discrimination apply to women with infertility problems who are trying to become pregnant.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge David Coar sided with Hall's suburban Chicago employer and said seeking infertility treatment was not grounds for sex discrimination because infertility is a condition that applies equally to men and women.

"The fact that (Hall) happens to be a woman in the present case does not qualify her for protection under Title VII" of the Civil Rights Act, Coar wrote.

On Wednesday, the appeals judges tossed out Coar's reasoning. * * *

Although the opinion set a precedent that Hollander said will be considered in similar cases across the country, it did not definitively resolve Hall's lawsuit. * * *

With Coar's decision out of the way, Hall still must convince a jury that her infertility treatments were the true reason for her firing, which Nalco denies.

The 11-page 7th Circuit ruling in the ND Illinois case of Hall, Cheryl v. Nalco Company was issued Wednesday July 16th, Judge Sykes opinion begins:
Cheryl Hall maintains she was fired by Nalco Company for taking time off from work to undergo in vitro fertilization after being diagnosed with infertility. She filed this suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), alleging her termination constituted discrimination on the basis of sex. Without reaching the merits of her claim, the district court granted summary judgment for Nalco on the ground that Hall could not prove sex discrimination because infertility is a gender-neutral condition.

We reverse. The focus of any Title VII sex-discrimination claim is whether the employer treated the employee differently because of the employee’s sex. The PDA amended Title VII to provide that discrimination “because of” sex includes discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Although infertility affects both men and women, Hall claims she was terminated for undergoing a medical procedure—a particular form of surgical impregnation—performed only on women on account of their childbearing capacity. Because adverse employment actions taken on account of childbearing capacity affect only women, Hall has stated a cognizable sex-discrimination claim under the language of the PDA.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 18, 2008 08:09 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions