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Tokyo court rules forced resignation of pregnant woman invalid

The Tokyo District Court's Tachikawa branch has ruled in favor of a woman who claimed that she was forced out of her job, which was treated as a resignation, after she fell pregnant, invalidating a resignation without consent based on an employee's pregnancy.

    According to the Jan. 31 ruling and other sources, the woman, 31, was working at an architectural survey firm in January 2015 when she learned that she was pregnant. She consulted with her supervisor and the person told her to work at an affiliated temp staff agency, saying that it would be difficult for her to work at construction sites. After she registered with the temp staff agency and started working at the new workplace, the woman fell ill due to a long commute. She then asked for relocation to an office near her home, but her employer ignored her request and told her in June that year that her employment had been terminated, though it was treated as a resignation.

    Judge Seiichi Araki told the court that while careful judgment is required in light of the equal employment opportunity law over whether consent for resignation was reached during the woman's pregnancy, the company failed to give her concrete explanations (over the handling of her employment) and she did not have information to consider her options between staying in the company or registering with the temp staff agency. The judge added, "It is difficult to say that she had a choice based on her free will."

    The court rejected the company's claim that it had the woman's consent and ordered it to pay her about 2.5 million yen in unpaid wages and compensation. The company has told the Mainichi Shimbun that it cannot comment on the matter because it has not received the written verdict.

    The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 on a case, in which a woman was demoted without consent because she was pregnant, that demotion based on an employee's pregnancy should be banned in principle and that such treatment was illegal and invalid unless the woman agrees to the demotion based on her free will or it is absolutely necessary for the business.

    According to the attorney representing the woman in the Tokyo District Court case, the Jan. 31 decision is the first ruling invalidating a resignation forced by an employer because the worker was pregnant.

    Discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy or childbirth is called "maternity harassment," which is prohibited under the Act on Securing, Etc. of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment.

    Professor Emiko Takeishi at Hosei University's Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies sees this latest matter as a "typical maternity harassment" case. "Companies are now required to confirm women's intentions (about work after pregnancy and childbirth) carefully. The ruling will help prevent workplace maternity harassment," Takeishi said.

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