PHOENIX - The owners/operators of the Moonshine Whiskey Bar in Tempe, Ariz., will pay $66,000 and furnish other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced Monday in a news release.
Michelle Viscusi, a bartender at the bar, was discharged by Tempe-based Moonshine Group, LLC, because she was pregnant, according to the EEOC's lawsuit. Moonshine Group operated Moonshine Whiskey Bar until July 2015, when it sold the bar to True Country Enterprises LLC, also based in Tempe, the news release stated.
The EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement before filing its lawsuit is US District Court for the District of Arizona.
However, Moonshine Group failed to appear in court and defend itself, according to the EEOC.
Judge Douglas L. Rayes held a default judgment hearing, during which the EEOC provided an audio recording in which one of Moonshine Group's members, Benjamin Levine, said, "There's going to be a whole number of people that I would be offending by allowing a pregnant person to be behind the bar. They might look at it as the owner's a f---ing idiot they're letting a girl that's pregnant that could get injured behind the bar bartending right now. How irresponsible are those guys?"
Rayes wrote that he found the conduct of the Moonshine Group "deplorable" in his order granting default judgment to the EEOC, and he concluded that the Group violated federal law by removing Viscusi from her duties because she was pregnant.
The Moonshine Group was ordered to pay $15,721 in back pay, $925 in back pay interest, $10,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $41,647.
True Country, under a separate consent decree, is required to pay $25,000, conduct management training and implement new equal employment opportunity policies to ensure that its practices comply with anti-discrimination law, the release stated.
Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, according to the news release.
"I knew what Ben was doing was wrong, and I'm happy Judge Rayes recognized that," Viscusi said. "I brought this charge because women have just as much of a right to work as men, and pregnancy doesn't change that."
EEOC Trial Attorney Mark Sorokin said, "Judge Rayes' decision recognizes that pregnant women fully belong in the workplace."
"This employer's words cut against everything that we stand for," EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill said. "The court's judgment provides some measure of satisfaction and vindicates Michelle's decision to come forward. The consent decree with True Country will ensure that what happened to Michelle will not happen again at the Moonshine Whiskey Bar."