Valley woman sues Ag giant for pregnancy discrimination

FRESNO, Calif.

The Valley woman says she accepted a job offer late last year at the regional hub for Olam International. That's near Friant and Highway 41. But she never started work after her bosses found out she was pregnant.

Olam International has been expanding its presence in the Valley for years now and just opened a regional hub in Fresno a few months ago. But as they grew in size, they also became a defendant in a lawsuit that's part of a growing trend.

The May grand opening of Olam International's regional hub in Fresno brought out some of the area's top politicians and business leaders. But six months before the ribbon cutting, trouble was brewing for the ag giant.

A Valley woman named Jennifer Heintz claims she was offered a job as an executive assistant to two presidents in the River Park building. She took the job, but three days later, she was told the company was holding off on filling the position. Four days after that, Olam hired another person.

"It was pretty clear what happened, so we brought suit," said Anna Park.

Park is a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is suing Olam after receiving a complaint of pregnancy discrimination from Heintz. Congress passed laws protecting pregnant women at work in 1978, but Park says the law is commonly violated.

"It remains a serious problem -- women not getting jobs, women being forced out of jobs, essentially being fired, and in this case, hired and fired immediately after they learned of the pregnancy," she said.

And the problem seems to be getting worse. In the five years from 1997 to 2001, the EEOC received 20809 pregnancy discrimination complaints. In the last five years, they received 29088, a 40% increase. Park says the bottom line is, pregnant women have as much right to work as anyone else.

"There is an added stigma because you become pregnant, therefore in the future and after even you have your child, that you will not be a productive worker," she said. "That's simply not true."

Action News spoke to an executive with Olam who said he hadn't heard of the lawsuit. The company's human resources department didn't return our calls for comment.

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