Two cases may clarify pregnancy discrimination claims

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a piece of legislation designed to prevent employers in the U.S. from treating pregnant women differently from similarly situated employees. Years later, in 2008, Congress also passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, which expanded the federal definition of what constitutes a disability to cover pregnancy related impairments. In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission promulgated regulations implementing the changes outlined by the ADAAA. Since the regulations were issued, there have been few cases interpreting them and, right now, employers do not know what to expect. At the end of last year, however, the EEOC identified pregnancy discrimination as an emerging area of concern and two recent cases may provide the agency with the opportunity to elucidate the requirements of the 2011 regulations.

One recent complaint was filed with the EEOC by the National Women's Law Center on behalf of Amy Crosby, a cleaner at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. According to the complaint, Crosby suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and her symptoms got worse in the 23rd week of her pregnancy. The pain made it impossible for her to do some of the tasks she performed at work. The hospital placed Crosby on involuntary leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and denied her request to adjust her job duties to require limited lifting. This denial came despite a letter from a neurologist explaining her condition and other similarly situated employees receiving adjustments in work duties.

Another recent complaint was filed with the EEOC by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Julie Desantis-Mayer, who was working as a driver for United Parcel Service, Inc. at the time she became pregnant. When Desantis-Mayer informed UPS that she was pregnant, she claims that supervisors offered to move her to a lighter duty position, but refused to allow her time to count toward either seniority or benefits. According to the complaint, non-pregnant UPS employees were offered better accommodations for their conditions.

In these sorts of cases, the EEOC generally attempts to mediate between the employee and the employer. If that fails, then the agency can conduct an investigation. If it finds that violations of the law have occurred, then it can sue the employer, settle or even refer the case to the Department of Justice. Even if the EEOC finds that the employer has not committed a violation, the employee can pursue her own civil case.