Winter 2003-08 Ignorance of pregnancy avoids liability under the Working Mothers Act

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Number 50
Winter 2003

Ignorance of pregnancy avoids liability under the Working Mothers Act

In Santiago Gonzalez v. Oriental Bank & Trust, 2002 J.T.S. 89, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decided that an employer's lack of knowledge about an employee's pregnancy is an valid defense that effectively avoids the sanctions of the "Working Mothers Act."

Sex or gender discrimination is principally prohibited in the labor and employment field by a number of statutes. Among these laws is Act No. 100 of June 30, 1959, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 147, that prohibits the firing, suspension, reduction in pay, or any other type of discrimination or adverse action of any kind, based on gender.

Similarly, Act No. 69 of July 6, 1985, tit. 29 § 1321, prohibits sex or gender discrimination in the workplace; and Act No. 17 of April 22, 1958, tit. 29, § 155, prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and establishes that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Finally, Act No. 3 of March 13, 1942 (the "Working Mothers Act"), specifically proscribes pregnancy discrimination, which is also a form of sex discrimination.

The Working Mothers Act presumes that termination of employment of a pregnant worker lacks just cause. Also thereunder, diminished production or output cannot be considered just cause for dismissal.

Lack of knowledge of an employee's pregnant condition is an effective defense, not to establish whether the termination was with or without just cause, but to avoid the severe sanctions provided by the act. That is, if the employer knew about the pregnancy, then the law is set in motion and the sanctions apply; if, on the other hand, the employer had no previous knowledge of the pregnancy, then the exclusive remedy is the severance pay of Act No. 80, which is substantially less onerous to employers.

© 2003 Goldman Antonetti