On October 16th, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a male employee’s claim for pregnancy discrimination at work based on his wife’s pregnancy. While the man alleged that he was mistreated at work and fired because his wife was pregnant, the court said that federal anti-discrimination law does not protect husbands based on their familial status in relation to their pregnant spouses.
Male employee’s allegations of harassment and discrimination
The plaintiff, Steven Van Soeren, worked for Disney Streaming Service (DSS) as a product designer in New York City. In his complaint (reproduced after the article at this link), Van Soeren described receiving only positive reviews for the quality of his job performance, but alleged that several co-workers made crude and rude comments related to pregnancy and children when his wife was pregnant and after the birth of their child. He also claimed that a colleague sprayed him with baby powder “because he was having a baby.”
Although Van Soeren complained to human resources about the “discriminatory treatment as well as the harassing behavior” he was experiencing, he claims that he received no assistance in dealing with the mistreatment. Instead, Van Soeren claims that HR told him he could resign if he no longer wanted to work at DSS.
In addition to verbal abuse about pregnancy and babies, Van Soeren also alleged that his coworkers directed hurtful and unkind comments toward him personally, and that one colleague flashed a knife and swung a baseball bat over Van Soeren’s head.
Ultimately, Van Soeren claimed that DSS fired him without a “legitimate non-discriminatory reason.”
Spouse of pregnant woman held not in a protected class
In the lawsuit, Van Soeren claimed that DSS engaged in unlawful pregnancy discrimination under Title VII, the primary federal anti-discrimination law impacting employment, amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), in addition to other federal and state law claims. In dismissing the case, the judge explained that the allegations fail to state a claim as a matter of law (ruling reproduced after the article at this link) “because familial status – such as being a new parent – is not a protected class” and therefore Van Soeren was not entitled to relief under Title VII. The judge also dismissed Van Soeren’s other federal and state law claims.