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MN Court Rules Against Clinic for Job Rescission

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) - An orthodontist who rescinded a job offer after learning the new hire was pregnant committed sex discrimination, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.

Nicole LaPoint is entitled to damages from Family Orthodontics PA, whose owner, Dr. Angela Ross, balked when LaPoint told her about her pregnancy and planned 12-week maternity leave, according to Monday's ruling.

The clinic's attorney said in a phone interview that the clinic will appeal the decision.

Judge Michael Kirk wrote the unanimous opinion, finding that discrimination based on pregnancy is prohibited in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The district court did not agree, having previously found that Ross's evidence showed the decision was based on her concerns about a longer maternity leave, LaPoint's failure to disclose her pregnancy during the interview and her fear, despite LaPoint's assurance to the contrary, that she would not return to work once she gave birth, court records show.

"It further found that Dr. Ross and three of her employees 'credibly testified as to the disruption a lengthy leave of absence would cause the clinic,'" Kirk wrote. "Consistent with Family Orthodontics's arguments, the district court described the disruption as Dr. Ross's 'overriding concern.'"

Kirk viewed the record differently and reversed the lower court's ruling.

"Here, there is extensive evidence in the record that Family Orthodontics discriminated against LaPoint on the basis of her pregnancy in a purposeful, intentional, and overt manner," he wrote.

Throughout the trial, Ross testified that one of the reasons she rescinded the job offer was that LaPoint, who had not yet told her family about her pregnancy, did not disclose it during the interview, according to Kirk's ruling.

But that would require LaPoint to disclose a fact about which Family Orthodontics could not "lawfully inquire," and is thus direct evidence of discrimination, Kirk wrote. Further, there is "ample circumstantial evidence" of pregnancy discrimination in the record, the opinion states.

First, Ross wrote "Due 10/13! Pregnant?!" on LaPoint's resume after the job offer call, and rather than offer her the job contingent on a shorter leave, Ross simply rescinded the job offer, according to court records.

"Shortly after learning of LaPoint's pregnancy, Family Orthodontics reposted the ad for the position," Kirk wrote in the 11-page opinion. "Finally, it ultimately hired a non-pregnant woman without commensurate experience to fill the position."

Kirk ended his opinion by chiding the district court for ruling as it did.

"In the face of the robust affirmative evidence, the district court erred in concluding that LaPoint failed to prove that her pregnancy was a substantial causative factor in Family Orthodontics' decision," the judge wrote.

Marshall Tanick with Minneapolis-based Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC said Family Orthodontics will appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the next few weeks.

In the appeal, Tanick said they will raise several issues, including the appeals court not properly deferring to the trial court's credibility ruling and ignoring the lower court's finding of "mixed motives" for the termination.

LaPoint is represented by lead counsel Steven Smith with Minneapolis-based Nichols Kaster PLLP, who did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

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