We have previously written that high-profile employment lawsuits inspire much public dialogue about office politics as well as help employees better understand their own rights in the workplace. One such lawsuit will certainly get the public's attention, as it is associated with one of the country's richest and most respected women.
In a lawsuit against the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a former employee accuses the company of gender discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation for actions it took in response to complications with her pregnancy. While Oprah is not named in the lawsuit, the outcome will almost assuredly reflect on the media empire which bears her name.
In mid-2010, the woman was hired as the senior director of scheduling and acquisitions for the company. She claims that during the first year of her employment with OWN, she received glowing performance reviews and was even on track for a promotion to a vice presidency position.
Then came the pregnancy. About 13 months after starting, she informed her boss that she was pregnant, and a complication with the pregnancy forced her to take leave for about two weeks. According to her lawsuit, things began to change gradually upon her return.
For starters, a temporary employee had been brought in during the two weeks she was on leave. For the next few months after returning, the woman alleges, her job duties were slowly taken away and she was left out of meetings and important conversations.
While on maternity leave in early 2012, she was told that she was being laid off due to "restructuring." Suspiciously, the vice presidency position she had been on track for was eventually awarded to the temp worker who had filled in for her early in her pregnancy.
These accusations would be serious in any workplace. But they could be especially toxic for Oprah Winfrey, who has built her career as a source of inspiration for women everywhere. At the very least, this lawsuit will hopefully serve to educate all women about their workplace rights and protections.
Eonline.com, "Oprah Winfrey's OWN Sued for Sex Discrimination," Josh Grossberg," Feb. 4, 2013
AOL Jobs, "Oprah's OWN Hit With Sex And Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit," Feb. 2, 2013