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When accommodating pregnant employee, make sure measures truly relate to pregnancy

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Under the ADA and state discrimination law, pregnant women may be entitled to accommodations at work. For example, if a pregnancy involves medical complications, an employee may be entitled to a reduced schedule, shift changes or temporary assignments to accommodate lifting restrictions.

However, requests for changes that are only tangentially related to a pregnancy don’t have to be honored.

Recent case: Brea worked in a clerical position for the Eagan Police Depart­­ment, where clerks are needed around the clock. When Brea first came on board, all shifts were determined by seniority using a bidding system.

Later, the union contract for police department employees placed shift changes largely within managers’ control, so seniority was no longer the only scheduling factor. In addition, shifts could not be changed just to accommodate employee preference.

Brea worked full time. In the past, she had taken two 12-week FMLA leaves, one for the birth of each of two children. When Brea became pregnant a third time soon after the birth of her second child, she met with her supervisor and requested reassignment to work fewer hours per week and a different shift to save money on day-care costs. She told the supervisor that the pregnancy was unplanned and came at a difficult time financially.

The supervisor told Brea she would speak with management about a shift change and schedule reduction. She was told not to discuss the matter with another clerk, whom Brea had suggested might want to go from part-time to full-time work. The supervisor wanted to get management approval before making any promises.

Brea pulled the other employee aside anyway and discussed the potential switch.

A few days later, the supervisor met with Brea and announced that her request would be denied. Brea became upset and said she might have to quit. She then stood up and said that she had to leave. On her way out of the supervisor’s office, Brea added, “I’ve put so much time and effort into you guys and you are f*****g me over.” She then got her coat and went home.

The police department suspended Brea pending an investigation into unprofessional and uncivil ­behavior. After an investigation, Brea was offered the option of resigning or being terminated. She resigned.

In the end, the woman Brea had asked to switch positions got Brea’s old job and a new employee took the part-time one Brea had wanted.

Brea sued, alleging pregnancy and disability discrimination.

The court dismissed her claims. It reasoned that there was no evidence that Brea was temporarily so disabled by her third pregnancy that she needed accommodations. Although financial pressures may be a consequence of pregnancy, they aren’t a valid reason for an accommodation. Plus, insubordination is a legitimate reason for discipline. (McCarty v. City of Eagan, No. 12-cv-2512, DC MN, 2014)

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