Fighting for the Right to Continue Working During Pregnancy

Federal anti-discrimination statutes have advanced considerably in the more than 50 years since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but there is still a long way to go. This is especially true for employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth, since the types of protection offered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act remain unclear. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII to include discrimination based on pregnancy as a form of unlawful gender discrimination, but it has left other questions, like the right of a pregnant employee to reasonable accommodations for their condition, without clear answers. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently taking up this issue in Young v. United Parcel Service, but its decision is not expected until June 2015. In the meantime, people continue to face unpaid leave, or even the loss of their job, when they become pregnant. They may have protections under state or municipal law, but federal law remains the best hope for helping the most workers.

The news media reported on a North Carolina woman whose situation is similar to that of the plaintiff in Young. The woman is a certified nursing assistant who worked at a nursing home for two years before becoming pregnant. Her doctor diagnosed her with preeclampsia, which can harm both the mother and the fetus. She submitted a doctor’s note to her employer with a request for light duty, which the employer denied. She claims that the nursing home routinely assigns light duty to employees with lifting restrictions, but the employer allegedly stated that she could no longer meet the essential duties of her job, which included lifting up to 35 pounds. This effectively put her on unpaid leave until she was able to go on pregnancy leave. She resigned several weeks after the baby was born.

According to local media, North Carolina is one of only four U.S. states that has no laws protecting pregnant or breastfeeding employees. The woman’s recourse is limited to the federal Title VII. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is reportedly still under review. Many states offer greater protection for pregnant employees than those found in Title VII. The New York State Human Rights Law, for example, currently prohibits compelling a pregnant employee to take leave, unless they are unable to perform essential job duties and no accommodation is possible. N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(g). New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination was recently amended to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy and to require reasonable accommodations. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10-5:12, as amended by N.J. Sen. Bill 2995, P.L. 2013, c. 220.

The EEOC’s pregnancy discrimination enforcement guidelines, which it updated last year for the first time in years, state that an employer may violate the PDA if it denies light duty or some other accommodation to a pregnant employee that it routinely allows for other employees with similar restrictions. One key question, then, is what sort of restrictions are comparable to those of a pregnant employee. Lifting restrictions, proximity to a restroom, and opportunities to either work while seated or take rest breaks are common accommodations requested by pregnant employees, and that may be available to workers with other conditions.

Employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area have a knowledgeable and experienced advocate in the pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a members of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Pregnancy Discrimination Case Causes Controversy, Although Maybe Not for the Right Reason, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 4, 2015
Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Pregnancy Discrimination Act Requires Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 24, 2014
State Laws, Proposed Federal Law Require Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 14, 2014

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