pregnancyThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week that it reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo to resolve claims that the company discriminated against pregnant women, new mothers, and women on maternity leave. The San Francisco company says that it is settling the case in order to avoid a long and expensive legal battle, but denies any wrongdoing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development says that Wells Fargo’s home mortgage unit was discriminatory in its issuance of loans. Wells Fargo is the largest provider of mortgages in the country. Allegedly, Wells Fargo refused to make loans available to some women based on their gender or family status. HUD also claims that the company forced some women to give up their maternity leave and go back to work before it would agree to close a loan with them. Bank employees were also alleged to have made discriminatory statements to and about women who were pregnant or had recently given birth.

As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo has agreed to change its underwriting guidelines, and it will show its staff how the new guidelines should be followed. HUD received complaints from across the country about the company’s discriminatory practices. Six families will receive $165,000 each as part of the settlement, and another 175 claimants will receive $20,000 each. One of the six families was a real estate agent who lost a commission because of the alleged discrimination. Another one of the six families had a wife who was on maternity leave from her job as a nurse who was trying to buy a home in Texas. She gave the bank several letters from her employer stating she was going to go back to work, but a loan officer told her in an email that “moms often don’t return to work after the birth of their little ones”.

Many companies fail to realize that pregnancy discrimination is illegal in several different contexts. In this situation, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in real estate transactions. Since 2010, 190 discrimination complaints related to maternity leave have been filed with HUD.

Another common way in which pregnant women are discriminated against is in employment. Under federal and state laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Employment and Housing Act, women have legal protections during pregnancy. An employer cannot discriminate against an applicant or an employee because she is pregnant or is planning to become pregnant. Discrimination may include refusing to hire, firing, demoting, or taking other negative actions against an applicant or employee. Also, harassment on the basis of pregnancy is illegal. Employers also must provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations if needed, which could include allowing them more frequent bathroom breaks, alternative work schedules to accommodate doctors’ appointments, and less time on their feet.

If a company discriminates or harasses a woman at work because of pregnancy, or fails to provide reasonable accommodations to a pregnant woman so that she can continue working, the company may have violated the employee’s legal rights. The woman can sue the company and obtain compensation or other damages.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no woman should be discriminated against because of pregnancy. If you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of your pregnancy, or your plan to become pregnant, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland pregnancy discrimination attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works hard on behalf of pregnant women who are discriminated against in the workplace, to ensure that they are treated fairly. Call to learn more about your options.

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