Maine Human Rights Commission Found Sex Discrimination and Retaliation by CSS

By Ramona du Houx

On April 8, 2021, Siera L. Boucher filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court, in Portland, Maine, against CSS for sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation because she asked about a possible accommodation to breastfeed her infant during a one-week training. CSS has about 650 employees and is headquartered in New Jersey. It provides patients with home-care equipment and services and has 17 offices in ten states, including two offices in Maine.

After two rounds of interviews and a thorough vetting process, CSS offered Boucher a job as a respiratory therapist at its Portland location. With her offer in hand, Boucher made a few routine inquiries to HR about an advertised sign-on bonus and the possibility of slightly higher pay. After CSS answered these questions to Ms. Boucher’s satisfaction, she gave notice of resignation to her current employer and formally accepted the new position with CSS.

But after she accepted the job, CSS told Boucher for the first time that she had to attend a week-long training in Connecticut. Because Boucher was breastfeeding her 10-month-old baby who did not take a bottle at night, she asked CSS about a possible accommodation for the training. The very next day, CSS took back its job offer without explanation.

“I was excited to go work for CSS. I just had a few questions about attending the one-week training while continuing to feed my baby. The new job with CSS was a great opportunity for me and my family and we were committed to making it work, including attending the one-week training in Connecticut. But CSS never gave me the chance,” said Boucher.

In an internal email, CSS’s Director of Operations admitted that the decision to rescind the job offer was made because Ms. Boucher’s questions about breastfeeding and pay raised “too many red flags.”

The court complaint (copy attached) filed today follows the unanimous finding of the Maine Human Rights Commission, in November 2020, that CSS engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation. The MHRC Investigator’s Report (copy attached) found that CSS’s “red flags” email “made an explicit statement that unambiguously demonstrates its unlawful discrimination” and that CSS wrongly “assumed that because [Ms. Boucher] was a breastfeeding mother, she would not be able to attend the training at all.” The MHRC Report rejected as “not credible” CSS’s claim that it “has never had a job candidate ask questions about pay or hours after receiving, but prior to accepting, a job offer.”

“The double standard here is unmistakable: men routinely ask questions about job offers with no penalty, but when Ms. Boucher politely asked about breastfeeding and pay, that was enough for CSS to revoke its job offer. This unequal treatment was not only unfair and bad for CSS’s customers who were denied a very capable respiratory therapist, but it was also plainly illegal,” said attorney Carol Gavan, who with Valerie Wicks, represents Boucher in this case.

Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, LLP, has offices in Portland and Augusta and is a workers’ and civil rights law firm in Northern New England.

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