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Capacity, not actual pregnancy, is heart of PDA

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A federal appeals court has overturned a case that had been dismissed because an employee couldn’t prove that her employer knew she was pregnant. The court clarified that the capacity to become pregnant is at the heart of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

Employers that discriminate against a woman because they believe she might become pregnant (and thus need time off or expensive medical care) violate the PDA even if the woman isn’t pregnant.

Recent case: Khadara, a lab technician, is a Muslim woman of Somali national origin. When her husband was involved in a car accident in Belgium, she requested leave to travel so she could assist him in his recovery. Her employer approved FMLA leave. While in Europe, Khadara became pregnant. She did not tell anyone at the lab about the pregnancy.

When Khadara found out she had been removed from the schedule, she called her supervisor from Europe and provided a return date. Her supervisor then allegedly told her that she had heard a rumor that Khadara intended to remain out of the country to raise a family. The supervisor, according to Khadara, added that, “these people have babies left and right.” When Khadara asked her what she meant by that, the supervisor allegedly responded, “Never mind.”

When Khadara was terminated for alleged job abandonment, she sued.

Her case was initially dismissed because no one working for her employer knew she was pregnant. She appealed.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Minnesota, reinstated her lawsuit. It concluded that an employee doesn’t have to prove that her employer knew about a pregnancy to sue for pregnancy discrimination. She only has to prove that the employer held an employee’s potential childbearing against her. (Yousuf v. Fairview Health Services, No. 14-3687, 8th Cir., 2015)

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