The media is reporting that a jury awarded Brandi Cochran $8.5 million for pregnancy discrimination related to her position with the TV show, "The Price is Right." $601,944 was for lost wages and future earnings. I suspect an additional amount was awarded for emotional distress. However, the majority of the verdict -- in excess of $7 million -- appears to be in the form of punitive damages.
Cochran worked for six years as a model on the show. She then took 10 months off as "maternity leave" before seeking reinstatement. The show was satisfied with the models then working. Thus, it did not reinstate Cochran.
There is no maternity leave in California. We have pregnancy disability leave (PDL) but no maternity leave. PDL is during the period of the woman's disability caused by pregnancy, not to exceed four months. Even if Cochran took CFRA (California Family Rights Act) leave after PDL, she would be entitled to only 7 months of leave.
An employee on PDL is entitled to reinstatement. An employee is entitled to reinstatement after a CFRA leave too. So it is interesting to see that Cochran was absent for 10 months and called it maternity leave. I would have advised my clients not to extend PDL or CFRA (absent a disability pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act). Thus, after the four, or seven months elapsed, Cochran would not have been entitled to reinstatement. A claim of discrimination based on pregnancy disability would not have been successful.
The show has decided to "spin the wheel" and appeal the case. We'll see if it wins the showcase or loses because it overbid.
Leaves are tricky, especially in California. You need to make sure you understand the leave requirements and the reinstatement obligation. Let us know if you need help navigating your way.