pregnant

It's been a rough couple of years for Chipotle. Last year, the fast food chain was beset by outbreaks of norovirus and E.coli that caused widespread illness. This February, the company was ordered by a federal grand jury to pay some $600,000 to three former general managers who sued the company for firing them because they were women. Now it must pay $550,000 to a former employee who says she was discriminated against and ultimately fired because of her pregnancy.

Supervisor Accused of Limiting Water, Restroom Breaks

The 31-year-old woman, who was a food preparer in one of the chain's Washington, D.C. stores, said the discrimination by her supervisor began when she told him she was pregnant in November 2011. She says he restricted how much water she could drink, required that she inform all employees before she used the restroom and said she had to wait until she got permission before she could leave her post -- things not required of other workers.

In January 2012, she says that after several days of failing to respond to her requests to leave early for a doctor's appointment, her boss informed her on the day of the appointment that she couldn't go. When she went to the appointment, anyway, he reportedly fired her in front of her fellow employees.

Company Is "Moving On" After $550,000 Judgment

The supervisor, who is no longer with the company, denied the woman's claims in court. However, the federal jury took just a few hours to determine that Chipotle should pay the woman $500,000 in punitive damages and $50,000 in compensatory damages and Chipotle will not appeal.

Case Spawned New Law

Because of this case, local lawmakers in Washington D.C. passed the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The new law requires employers in the District to provide pregnant workers with necessary accommodations like more frequent restroom breaks, drinking water and time off for prenatal appointments.

Although these seem like basic employer accommodations that many pregnant working women take for granted, women in low-paying jobs in the service industry are often at the mercy of individual supervisors who may or may not choose to provide them. It's essential that pregnant women know their legal rights in the workplace. Attorneys who deal with workplace discrimination cases can provide guidance and work to help protect their rights.

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