The country's equal employment watchdog has filed a lawsuit against White Way Cleaners, claiming the St. Paul-based dry cleaner wrongfully fired an employee because she was pregnant.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges White Way, which has 10 facilities around the Twin Cities, violated federal law by firing Michelle Johnson when she became pregnant with her second child.
According to the EEOC, White Way transferred Johnson to a counter job when she became pregnant the first time, but when she became pregnant again, the company terminated her employment. The EEOC contends that White Way Cleaners terminated Johnson because of her pregnancy.
The suit claims that White Way Cleaners maintained a policy barring pregnant women from working in its St. Paul plant. The company told the EEOC it implemented this policy to protect the pregnant women from chemicals released during dry cleaning processes.
"Our investigation showed that the chemicals released during White Way's dry cleaning processes were in levels so minute that they did not pose a concern," said John Rowe, director of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, which covers Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and most of Illinois. "White Way Cleaners acted unnecessarily and discriminatorily to bar pregnant women from the plant."
In a statement released today, the company denied the allegations. White Way said that during Johnson's first pregnancy, the company "provided benefits beyond those required by law."
The EEOC said it filed the suit after first attempting to resolve the case through voluntary efforts.
John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, said the Supreme Court has made it clear that decisions regarding where and whether to work are to be left to the pregnant woman.
"Employers cannot restrict women -- pregnant or otherwise -- from their facilities in anything but the most unique of circumstances," Hendrickson said. "The EEOC contends that this wasn't one of those circumstances."