Iowa SC orders new trial in pregnancy case

Kathy Woods Aug. 31, 2009, 8:35am

Iowa Supreme Court justices

DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline)-The Iowa woman who was fired about a week after returning to work after maternity leave will get a new trial, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled.

Elizabeth DeBoom worked as a marketing director for a company called Raining Rose and was fired in 2004, eight days after returning to work full-time.

The company has said she does not have a case as she was not pregnant at the time she was fired.

Although a jury found in favor of the company, DeBoom appealed claiming the instructions to the jury prejudiced her claim.

The high court ruled Friday that the district court should have instructed the jury it could infer discrimination if it believed Raining Rose's proffered reasons for terminating DeBoom were "pretext."

DeBoom was prejudiced by an erroneous definition of "determining factor" in the jury instructions, the justices said.

Charles Hammond, the company's president, had questioned DeBoom about her devotion to the company when he learned of her pregnancy but was convinced DeBoom was excited about returning to work after the baby was born.

Hammond gave favorable feedback on DeBoom's work performance before the baby was born and even visited DeBoom once the baby was born and told her the company was eager to have her back.

DeBoom returned to work part-time on March 11, 2004. She was told she was doing a great job and received a 15 percent raise. DeBoom began full-time work on April 12 and was fired on April 20. The reason given was that she was no longer a good fit for the company.

Hammond told DeBoom that they were frustrated that she had not completed a major project that she had begun prior to leaving on maternity leave.

DeBoom filed a claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The agency issued a right-to-sue letter. DeBoom than filed a lawsuit in district court. Raining Rose filed a motion for a directed verdict, claiming DeBoom was not a protected class because she was not pregnant at the time of the firing.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the company and DeBoom appealed asking for a new trial stating that the district court had made several errors with respect to the jury instructions.

The state Supreme Court said that while they agree that Iowa statute does not recognize a discrimination claim based on DeBoom's status as a new parent, they saw evidence linking DeBoom's termination to her pregnancy.

"After reviewing interpretations of the federal PDA, we interpret the phase 'a person disabled by pregnancy because of the employee's pregnancy' broadly to include women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, and other related conditions," the court ruled.

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