The fact that we represent individuals in employment discrimination matters is sometimes met with the disbelief that discrimination still occurs in the workplace. You would be surprised at how prevalent it really is and that protections that many people think exist actually do not. Pregnancy discrimination is a good example, and one that we discuss in this article.
Title VII, the federal statute that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of, among other things, gender and race, was amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (the “Act”) to prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy. This applies to women who are “affected by pregnancy” which includes women who are currently pregnant as well as those who have recently given birth to a child. What may come as a surprise to many, however, is that courts have interpreted the Act as not requiring employers to give “reasonable accommodations” to female employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth to a child for limitations related to such pregnancy or childbirth. This is in contrast to the Americans with Disabilities Act which does require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.
What Are “Reasonable Accommodations”?
Reasonable accommodations include things like working light duty, lifting restrictions or providing a stool so that a pregnant employee does not have to stand for long periods of time. So what does this loophole in the law mean? In Kansas, a federal court found that a pregnant woman could be fired under a Wal-Mart policy prohibiting employees from carrying water bottles despite her doctor's instructions that she remain hydrated. In California, Pier 1 Imports forced a pregnant woman to take all of her available maternity leave before her baby was actually born because it refused to allow her to work on light duty despite her doctor's advice that she not climb ladders or lift packages over 15 pounds. (This employee may be in luck because California state law does require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant women). The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the United States Senate in May 2013 and would eliminate this loophole such that employers would be required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with “known limitations” related to pregnancy and childbirth. In New York, currently, only New York City has a law requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. If you have questions about pregnancy discrimination in New York feel free to contact us, we're happy to speak with you.
Giovanna A. D'Orazio by Giovanna A. D'Orazio |
Giovanna practices employment, land use, commercial, civil and personal injury law at D'Orazio Peterson