Pregnant Chicago teachers claim unfair treatment

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CHICAGO (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education on Tuesday, alleging that an elementary school principal discriminated against teachers who got pregnant by giving them lower performance evaluations and threatening to get them fired.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, said Principal Mary Weaver of Scammon Elementary responded to one teacher's announcement of her pregnancy by saying, "I can't believe you are doing this to me." According to the complaint, Weaver allegedly kept asking one teacher expressing breast milk for her child: "That isn't over yet?"

The principal's targeting of pregnant teachers led to actual job losses, the lawsuit alleges. The school board approved the firing of six recently pregnant teachers at Scammon and forced two others to leave the school, it contends. Meanwhile, non-pregnant Scammon teachers with similar or lower performance ratings kept their jobs.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the district will defend itself against the lawsuit and is committed to the fair treatment of pregnant employees and a policy of nondiscrimination. A working phone number for the school principal could not be found and a phone message left at the school wasn't returned.

"Chicago Public Schools is strongly committed to creating a workplace that values and respects all employees and will not tolerate the kind of discrimination or retaliation that is alleged to have taken place at Scammon Elementary school," McCaffrey said in a written statement.

The lawsuit stems from complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Justice Department is seeking monetary damages and a court order requiring the school board to develop policies to prevent pregnancy discrimination. Federal law bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sex.

"No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.

In 2009, the Chicago school board settled a pregnancy discrimination complaint with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay $45,000 in lost back pay and compensatory damages to a former teacher.

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