Suit alleges AC Transit discriminated against pregnant driver

A class-action lawsuit filed against AC Transit alleges the agency discriminated and retaliated against a female bus driver because she was pregnant. Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle.

A class-action lawsuit filed against AC Transit alleges the agency discriminated and retaliated against a female bus driver because she was pregnant. Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle.

A lawsuit against AC Transit alleges the agency discriminated and retaliated against a bus driver because she was pregnant.

According to the complaint filed Friday, the transit district did not accommodate plaintiff Nikki McNaulty through and after two pregnancies. That included refusing to provide adequate lactation accommodations or modified work assignments, which McNaulty’s lawyers allege violates California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The suit, which is seeking class-action status, alleges that AC Transit temporarily removed McNaulty from her health insurance and obstructed her efforts to obtain a desk job in retaliation for taking maternity leave.

In an email, AC Transit spokesman Robert Lyles declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said a suit represents only one side of a case.

“In this light, we ask the public to withhold judgment as we work to uncover the circumstances giving rise to this issue,” his statement said.

McNaulty, who began at AC Transit in March 2013 as a bus driver, was demoted in August to senior typist clerk after taking unpaid leaves of absence due to her pregnancies, the lawsuit said.

When McNaulty was five months pregnant with her first child in August 2015, she saw a worker’s compensation doctor after experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning from driving older-model buses, the complaint alleges. After doctors recommended that McNaulty return to work with limited driving and exposure to bus fumes, she tried unsuccessfully for three months to get a desk job to accommodate her needs, the lawsuit said.

Because she couldn’t obtain appropriate working conditions, McNaulty went on an unpaid leave three months before her scheduled maternity leave, which left her without pay for weeks, according to the complaint. McNaulty alleges the stress from work caused her to go into labor three weeks before her delivery date.

McNaulty’s return to work in February 2016 was delayed 10 days because the district did not initially provide space for her to pump breast milk and the eventual space was not a private lactation room but rather an empty conference room, the lawsuit said.

During her second pregnancy, McNaulty faced similar barriers to working.

“Based on her difficulties with the company during her pregnancy, and her need to return to work for financial reasons, Ms. McNaulty did all she could proactively to ensure her return to work went smoothly,” the complaint said.

After her second child was born, McNaulty’s request to return to work part time was denied because of AC Transit policy, the lawsuit said, causing McNaulty to go on another unpaid leave from October 2017 to January 2018. When she returned to work, McNaulty learned she would not receive the lactation accommodations she requested and faced a choice between taking a modified bus route that would reduce her pay or being forced to take another unpaid leave.

In August 2018, McNaulty took a senior typist clerk position with AC Transit, a job with lower pay and fewer hours than her bus operator position, her lawyer, Felicia Medina, said.

Through the suit, Medina said, McNaulty hopes to change AC Transit’s policies so other pregnant women won’t face the difficulties she did.

“When it comes to changing policies, she’s seeking to change the company culture, which is anti-working mother,” Medina said.

This article by Ashley McBride originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 2, 2019.