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As the name clearly implies, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against women who are pregnant. But it doesn’t mean pregnant employees are entitled to special privileges. In fact, the PDA merely makes clear that employers must treat pregnant employees the same way they treat every other employee.

Recent case: Amy Elam took a job as a bank teller and immediately began experiencing bouts of nausea and vomiting during her morning shift. Her doctor confirmed she was pregnant.

Morning sickness continued to be a problem for Elam. Sometimes a dozen times every morning, she had to leave her post suddenly until the nausea subsided for the day. She also had other performance problems.

The supervisor asked HR to help with coverage problems caused by Elam’s frequent restroom visits. They suggested Elam come to work later in the morning, after the worst of the nausea was over. She refused.

Finally, the bank terminated Elam for poor performance, including the allegation that she left her post with cash on the counter and her drawer unlocked.

Elam sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination. But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim.

It reasoned that the PDA protects pregnant employees only from being treated differently than other employees who aren’t pregnant. And because her fellow tellers weren’t allowed to leave their stations without repercussions, it was fine to discipline Elam for doing so. (Elam v. Regions Financial Corporation, No. 09-2004, 8th Cir., 2010)

Final note: The case might have turned out differently if Elam had been eligible for FMLA leave. But as a new employee, she hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for intermittent leave for her nausea.

It helped that the bank offered Elam the chance to come in late. That set the tone, showing that the bank acted reasonably.

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