EEOC Sues Wis. Insurer Over Fired Pregnant Worker

September 9, 2005

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a discrimination lawsuit against a central Wisconsin insurance company, claiming it fired an employee because she was pregnant.

But Mount Morris Mutual Insurance Co. of Coloma, Wis. denies it dismissed Charissa Black Slife in December 2002 because of her pregnancy.

The U.S. District Court suits comes in the wake of a 2004 ruling by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division that Slife had been discriminated against and was entitled to back pay and attorney’s fees. That ruling is being appealed by the company.

“We decided that it was an issue we wanted to get involved in because pregnancy discrimination is one of our priorities here,” Dennis R. McBride, senior trial attorney for the EEOC, said in explaining why his agency filed the suit last week.

According to the findings in the state case, Slife worked in the file room of the firm’s underwriting department, which was housed in a fireproof vault that was 2 to 8 degrees warmer than the rest of the office.

Slife said she began experiencing dizziness and nausea, which she believed was related to her pregnancy and exacerbated by the warm environment of the file room.

The state decision said that, after receiving a note from Slife’s nurse practitioner asking that the employee be allowed to work in a cooler part of the office, company President Howard Fenske decided to lay her off rather than try to find a way to cool her work area or temporarily trade jobs with the receptionist.

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