Plaintiffs in Successful Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Seek to Change State Law

pregnant womanAnti-discrimination laws in New York and around the country prohibit discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, and conditions directly related to either. The laws that address discrimination, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, do not necessarily require employers to provide that person with reasonable accommodations, such as light duty, more frequent restroom breaks, or the opportunity to pump breast milk. Both the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) address reasonable accommodations, but many state and local statutes do not. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as amended about 10 years ago, requires accommodations for some conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. The plaintiffs in a Kentucky pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, which resulted in a settlement several years ago, are now advocating for changes in their state’s law regarding accommodations for pregnant employees, which would then more closely resemble New York pregnancy discrimination laws.

Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and it includes “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” in its definition of “on the basis of sex.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1). It makes no mention of reasonable accommodations. Both the NYSHRL and NYCHRL state that an employer commits an “unlawful employment practice” by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(3), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(22). The NYSHRL defines a “reasonable accommodation” as something that allows an employee “to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 292.

Title I of the ADA does not specifically identify pregnancy as a “disability.” Changes to the law in the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 have led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to determine that pregnant workers may be entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The agency has also found that the ADAAA requires it to construe “the definition of ‘disability’…broadly in favor of expansive coverage.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.1(c)(4).

The lawsuit mentioned above involved two women employed as police officers in Florence, Kentucky. Both worked patrol and sought light duty assignments when they became pregnant. One of the women had been allowed to go on light duty during her first pregnancy, but she found that the department’s policy had changed when she became pregnant a second time. They were given the options of using any paid leave they had accrued, followed by unpaid leave, or keep working patrol.

After the EEOC ruled in the women’s favor, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with the city. It filed a lawsuit asserting Title VII and ADA claims, along with a consent decree. United States v. City of Florence, No. 2:16-cv-00190, complaint (E.D. Ky., Oct. 26, 2016). The settlement included $135,000 in damages to the two complainants, injunctive relief, and changes in department policies.

The two women from that case were in the news again in early 2018, this time as advocates for legislation pending in the Kentucky Legislature. SB 38 would specify “reasonable accommodations” that employers would have to offer for pregnant and nursing employees. If this bill becomes law, it would address the issue with greater specificity than the NYSHRL or the NYCHRL.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for New York City employees and job seekers in claims for unlawful employment practices like a failure to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. You can contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees Are Still Not Included in Most Anti-Discrimination Statutes, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 28, 2017

Study Highlights Difficulties Faced by Employees in New York and Around the U.S. During Pregnancy and After Giving Birth, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 5, 2015

The Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 25 and Now Offers Some Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 16, 2015

Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures [CC0 1.0].

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