August 29, 2017
A contract baking company based in Vineland and Bellmawr has agreed to pay a former employee $60,000 to resolve allegations that it cut her loose in violation of her maternity rights under the New Jersey Family Leave Act.
Omni Baking Co. reached the settlement after former receptionist Ashley Ruiz-Lopez, who was hired in 2014, filed a civil rights complaint challenging her dismissal on March 29, 2016.
Ruiz-Lopez had gone out on maternity leave on Jan. 29 under the implicit 12-week protection afforded by the NJFLA, which covers employees who have worked for a company for at least 12 months. Prior to giving birth on Feb. 20, Ruiz-Lopez said she visited Omni's Vineland office to claim temporary disability benefits with a certified note from her doctor projecting a return in mid-April.
After giving birth by cesarean section, Ruiz-Lopez said she gave Omni a second note from her OB/GYN certifying that her "recovery date" would be April 17.
Despite multiple alleged attempts to contact Omni's human resources manager, both by phone and in person, Ruiz-Lopez said she never heard back from the company prior to her dismissal. Omni later claimed that Ruiz-Lopez was responsible for her own discharge because she never formally requested leave under the NJFLA.
Civil rights investigators reaffirmed that Ruiz-Lopez satisfied her notice obligation for family leave simply by notifying Omni that she planned to take time off of work for a purpose covered by law. She was not required to say a "magic word" or explicitly reference the NJFLA.
“An employee should not have to choose between keeping her job and raising a family,” said Craig T. Sashihara, director of the state Division on Civil Rights. “New Jersey’s family leave and pregnancy protection laws were created to maintain the integrity of the family unit and help society prosper. Our commitment is to ensure that employers adhere to those laws.”
In addition to the settlement with Ruiz-Lopez, Omni must pay $10,000 to the Division of Civil Rights and provide anti-discrimination training to its approximately 450 employees and managers.
“This case involves an important issue – one that matters not only to women in the workforce, but to entire families and to employers as well,” New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said. “The fact is that our state and federal laws protect pregnancy, and employers need to make certain their policies, management training, and handling of situations involving pregnant workers reflect a full understanding of employee rights under those laws.”