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Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t require accommodation of pregnancy complications

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects women from discrimination based on being pregnant. But that protection is limited. The PDA outlaws treating pregnant women worse than employees who aren’t pregnant. However, it doesn’t require affirmative steps to help them deal with complications.

Employers are complying with the law if they give pregnant women the same time off or temporary light work assignments they give other temporarily impaired workers.

As a policy, you should not single out pregnant women in your handbook as needing prior medical ap­­proval to continue working unless you similarly apply the requirement to everyone with potential medical restrictions.

Recent case: Amie worked as a veterinary technician at the Shady Brook Animal Hospital in Magnolia. Her duties included taking animals into exam rooms, preparing and monitoring them before and after surgery, treating them as directed, cleaning the hospital, and maintaining instruments and equipment.

The employee handbook included the following pregnancy reporting requirement:

Reporting the pregnancy: Notify your employer as soon as you think you may be pregnant. Many as­­pects of a veterinary hospital are dangerous to a pregnancy. Please notify your employer immediately if you are pregnant or become pregnant so that we can ensure the safety of your new baby. Your physician should approve of your continuing employment and fully explain any work restrictions. Your physician also should provide a reasonable estimate of the latest date you will be allowed to work. You may continue working so long as your physician deems that doing so would not endanger your health.

Amie told her supervisor she was pregnant. Her doctor recommended that she should not restrain large animals, handle cats to avoid cat-scratch fever and not handle cat litter to avoid the toxoplasmosis virus. She continued to work with those restrictions.

Then Amie had a few minor complications and asked to be allowed to sit while doing her job. The hospital denied her request and instead offered three options: accept a part-time position, go out on short-term leave or resign. She chose short-term leave and was placed on FMLA leave because the hospital believed it was covered by the FMLA even though it had fewer than 50 employees. After 12 weeks off, Amie was terminated.

She sued, alleging PDA violations. She also claimed she should have been accommodated with a transfer to an open pharmacy tech position.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that while the handbook pregnancy notification might be discriminatory, Amie hadn’t in fact been singled out for work restrictions. Other temporarily disabled employees also had to get doctors’ notes specifying what restrictions they had. Plus, the PDA only bars employers from treating pregnant women worse than those who aren’t pregnant. In this case, there was no evidence that anyone else with temporary work restrictions was treated more favorably.

In other words, pregnant women don’t get pregnancy accommodations if employees with a broken leg or other temporary problems don’t either. (Reynolds v. Shady Brook Animal Hospital, No. 4:12-CV-2258, SD TX, 2013)

Final note: Shady Brook probably didn’t have to wait 12 weeks to discharge Amie, either, because it wasn’t covered by the FMLA. Therefore it didn’t have to provide unpaid FMLA leave.

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