Human Rights Commission rejects claim of breast feeding mom against athenahealthCompany: decision not to hire based on interview, not gender
Augusta — A Maine Human Rights Commission rejected a complaint from a Kenduskeag woman who claimed athenahealth did not hire her because she was breast-feeding her child when she sought employment with the Belfast company in July of 2012.
The finding was outlined in MHRC Investigator Victoria Ternig's report to the commission in preparation of the monthly meeting Monday, Sept. 23, in Augusta.
In the report, dated Aug. 23, Ternig describes interviews she conducted with the complainant, Lynsie Bachelder, of Kenduskeag, and members of the management team at athenahealth.
In her complaint, Bachelder alleged the company chose not to hire her after she completed one phone interview and two subsequent in-person interviews, and that the decision against hiring her came only after she stated at the final interview that she was currently breast-feeding her child.
In response, managers at athenahealth stated Bachelder was not hired "because during her interview she gave an answer that called into question her ability and desire to work collaboratively in a teaching and learning environment, as well as her integrity and work ethic."
The complaint stated Bachelder applied for a position as a client services analyst, after which an existing athenahealth employee recommended Bachelder for the job. Bachelder stated her first two interviews "went fine," but a third interview she had with a senior manager went into more detail. Bachelder stated the senior manager asked her about her work history, including her past military service, and about her personal life. Bachelder told the interviewer she was married, had children and that she was just getting back into the workforce after being home to care for her children.
Bachelder also stated the senior manager specifically asked her if she was breast-feeding, and that Bachelder said she could pump breast milk on her breaks. The senior manager, however, told Ternig she had never used questions in her interviews that inquire about an applicant's pregnancy, family status or sex-related practices. The senior manager further stated that Bachelder volunteered that information.
The senior manager also told Ternig she had other concerns Bachelder was not a good fit for the company. She particularly recalled Bachelder giving an alarming answer when asked to provide an example of a situation in which she saw a co-worker handling something in an incorrect or inefficient manner.
Ternig explained: "In response, Ms. Bachelder told an anecdote about her time in active-duty military. She described a situation where she was working on a project with a co-worker. A third co-worker came along and said that the project should be completed a different way. Ms. Bachelder explained to [the] senior manager that she knew the third co-worker was wrong and that his/her idea would not work. Nevertheless Ms. Bachelder followed the third co-worker's direction and she explained to [the] senior manager that she did this so she could prove this individual wrong. Ms. Bachelder explained that the project failed as she expected and she informed a superior about it with the result [that] the third co-worker got in trouble."
The senior manager told Ternig that Bachelder had described an approach that was "completely antithetical to athenahealth's core values," adding that instead, Bachelder described a "destructive and adversarial approach."
Managers with the company also told Ternig the company makes accommodations for employees with families, noting it affords both new parents three months of paid maternity or paternity leave. The company stated that since November 2012 there have been 24 maternity leaves and seven paternity leaves for its employees. The managers stated the company also has three "time-out" rooms specifically designed for nursing mothers.
Bachelder alleged one of her former co-workers was hired at athenahealth weeks after she was rejected for a position there, and further stated the former co-worker was "a less qualified female who was not pregnant and not breast-feeding a child."
Managers with athenahealth told Ternig the company hired one woman who was pregnant at the time of hire, but that was not known to the managers prior to making the decision to hire. Also, a male was hired even after he told the interviewer he may need to take time off from work because his wife was pregnant.
In her conclusion, Ternig gave several reasons for finding that Bachelder did not demonstrate in her complaint that athenahealth had not hired her based solely on her gender.
Ternig found that the company provides benefits for employees who are pregnant or who have recently had children, citing the leave allowances and the existence of the "time out" rooms.
"Where [athenahealth] provides these types of benefits to employees, it does not logically follow that it would not hire an applicant based on the fact that he/she would have to take advantage of the benefits provided by [athenahealth]," stated Ternig.
Ternig also stated one of the applicants was hired while pregnant, although the company was not aware of that at the time of her interview.
"... This suggests that respondent does not ask applicants about their family and personal life, as complainant alleged," stated Ternig.
Ternig also found it reasonable that the company would choose not to hire Bachelder based on her comments because it "places such emphasis on collaborative and team work environments."
"Additionally, while it is understandable that [Bachelder] was upset that she was not chosen of a client services analyst position, [Bachelder] has not provided evidence to show that she would have been chosen for the position, but for her sex, specifically that she would have to breast-feed during her breaks," stated Ternig. "Discrimination based on sex in violation of the [Maine Human Rights Act] is not found."
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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