Hobby Lobby alleged to have fired pregnant employee who requested time off to give birth

A former Hobby Lobby employee says the "pro-family" company discriminated against her because of her pregnancy

Published July 29, 2014 7:52PM (EDT)

David and Barbara Green, co-founders of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.                          (AP/Hobby Lobby/Tony Gutierrez)
David and Barbara Green, co-founders of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. (AP/Hobby Lobby/Tony Gutierrez)

Hobby Lobby has always contended that even though it won't provide employees with comprehensive contraceptive coverage, it really is a very nice place to work because it goes the extra mile for employees. But according to a report from RH Reality Check, the company may have fired a pregnant employee after she requested time off to give birth to her child, even after reassuring her that her job would be waiting for her when she was ready to come back.

“They didn’t even want me to come back after having my baby, to provide for it,” Felicia Allen told reporter Sofia Resinick. Allen started as a part-time cashier at Hobby Lobby in 2010, and found out she was pregnant not too long after she started. She said she asked her supervisor if her job would be safe even though she hadn't been working at the chain long enough to qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act.

“I asked her would I lose my job due to me being four months and only having five months before I have my child. She told me ‘no,’” Allen told RH Reality Check. “I felt like everything was OK. I had talked to my boss, and she let me know that everything would be OK. I would still have my job.”

When Allen was ready to have her child, she was fired. She said she tried to come back three weeks after she gave birth, but wasn't rehired like she was assured she would be. “I was like, I can’t get fired,” Allen said. “She can’t terminate me because I have to go have my child. I started asking everybody on the job, ‘Can they do this?’ And even the assistant manager who had just got hired [said,] ‘No, that’s not right.’”

In addition to being misled about being able to return to her job, Allen said Hobby Lobby fought her on unemployment benefits. According to Allen, the company said she could have taken personal leave but opted not to. Allen eventually won her claim, but she left her experience at Hobby Lobby feeling that the company had discriminated against her because of her pregnancy.

And, as Resinick points out, Allen couldn't file a legal challenge after all of this because, like most Hobby Lobby employees, she had signed a piece of paper giving away her right to sue. Instead, most if not all matters are settled outside of court in arbitration:

In a phone interview, [Alex Colvin, a professor of conflict resolution at Cornell University and an expert on employment arbitration] told RH Reality Check that corporations generally institute an arbitration-only policy out of fear of widespread lawsuits and to keep information on disputes out of the public eye.

“I think it’s an interesting confluence here with Hobby Lobby being in the news with that big case, but if that were an employment case where an employee wanted to make a claim, we would never see that case at the Supreme Court because it would be stayed in arbitration,” Colvin said. “So, ironically, Hobby Lobby gets to go to the Supreme Court because they want to challenge this, but their own employees don’t get to go to court.”

According to federal court records, over the years, several employees have filed job discrimination lawsuits against Hobby Lobby claiming age, disability, race, and sex discrimination—which is common for many corporations. But due to the fact that Hobby Lobby avoids lawsuits and the fact that little information about arbitration cases is made public, it’s difficult to evaluate the company’s treatment of its employees beyond its assurances that they are paid above minimum wage and well taken care of.

In a promotional video on the Hobby Lobby website, company president Steve Green explained how he doesn't leave his pro-family Christian principles at the door when it comes to running his company. "Well, the beliefs that we’ve had -- that we have grown up with all our lives -- are convictions that we have that we live by personally," he said. "And as we have ran our business we feel the obligation or the desire that we want to use those same principles within our business. It would not be consistent for us to live one way at home and then accept a different way at work. That would be inconsistent with our faith."

Hobby Lobby has not yet responded to a request for comment, but one wonders how the Green family feels this story of alleged discrimination against a new mother reflects on those principles.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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