Lang v. Star Herald
107 F.3d 1308 (8th Cir. 1997)

Brief Synopsis: Former employee brought Title VII action against former employer alleging pregnancy discrimination.

Facts:

  • Lang was pregnant and worked for the Star Herald. Because of some problems with the pregnancy, her doctor told her not to return to work until it stopped.
  • Walker, her boss, eventually called Lang and informed her that her sick leave had expired and she had no remaining paid vacation time. He also reported that the Star Herald did not have a short-term disability policy.
  • When Lang’s situation wasn’t approving, Walker asked her to apply for an indefinite (unpaid) leave of absence, part of the company’s policy.
  • Lang refused to do so because she would not be guaranteed re-employment. As a result of her refusal, her employment with the Star Herald was terminated.

History:
The District Court granted the Herald’s motion for summary judgment.

Issues:
(1) Did Lang show a prima facie case of disparate treatment?
(2) Did Lang show a prima facie case of disparate impact?

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:
(1) Disparate Treatment:
For employee to establish prima facie case of disparate treatment sex discrimination under Title VII based on employer’s denial of indefinite unpaid leave of absence during pregnancy, employee must show that:

  • She belonged to protected class;
  • She was qualified to receive benefit of indefinite unpaid leave of absence with a guarantee of returning to her former position;
  • Despite being qualified, that she was denied benefit; and
  • The same benefit was available to others with similar qualifications.

This is known as the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Here, no one was entitled to the benefit Lang sought.

(2) Disparate Impact:
To establish prima facie case of disparate impact discrimination of pregnant employees under Title VII, employee must show that employer’s facially neutral policy is in fact unjustifiably more harsh on pregnant employees than on other employees.

Here, ‘there was no statistical support for her claim, and she in fact conceded in her brief that there is no evidence of statistical imbalance with this small of an employer.’

Rule: Title VII requires employers to treat employees who are members of protected classes the same as other similarly situated employees, but it does not create substantive rights to preferential treatment.