Employer who failed to provide pregnant employee light duty learns expensive lesson.
Recently a business learned an expensive lesson about its obligations concerning pregnancy discrimination. According to a recent lawsuit:
Seven months after an employee was hired, she notified her employer that she was seven months pregnant. She also provided the employer with a doctor’s note which indicated that she was limited from lifting more than fifteen pounds for the remainder of her pregnancy. The employer did not request that the employee supply any more medical information or documentation related to her pregnancy. One day after being informed about the employee’s pregnancy and the lifting restriction, the employer informed the employee that the company does not accommodate pregnant employees with light duty, but only accommodates employees who are injured on the job.
The employer also informed the employee that she could take unpaid leave until her doctor removed her lifting restriction, that she could reapply for her position after she was ready to return to work following her maternity leave but that there was no guarantee that her job would be available. The business then placed the employee on involuntary, unpaid leave.
The employee believed that the business forced her to resign involuntarily because of her pregnancy-related lifting restriction, and she filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging gender discrimination. The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe Title VII was violated with regard to both the female employee, and also a class of similarly situated female employees (other pregnant women). When the employer refused to resolve the case in the manner that the EEOC demanded, the EEOC sued the employer in federal court.
In the lawsuit the EEOC alleged that the company subjected both the pregnant employee, and also other pregnant employees to disparate treatment in violation of Title VII by refusing to accommodate their pregnancy related lifting restrictions. The EEOC’s lawsuit specifically focused on the claim that the company did accommodate other non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work. The lawsuit also claimed that because the business refused to accommodate the pregnant employee, and she was told to reapply in order to return to work, she was “constructively discharged” in violation of Title VII.
The EEOC’s lawsuit also claimed that the business had a policy or practice of regularly accommodating non-pregnant employees who had work restrictions caused by workplace injuries. Essentially, the employees who were injured on the job were provided with light duty or other job modifications under the company’s policy or practice, but employees with similar restrictions caused by a pregnancy related medical condition were not provided light or modified duty. The lawsuit claimed that the effect of these business practices were to deprive the pregnant women of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees because of their sex (female), pregnancy or related medical condition.
After three months of litigation, the company finally settled the lawsuit and the EEOC announced to the public that the employer paid $170,000 to settle the matter. EEOC v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and South Hill Operations LLC d/b/a Life Care Center of South Hill in Puyallup, No. 2:18-cv-01411-RAJ.
In addition to paying the employee $170,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages, the company must also pay to provide training on Title VII and the pregnancy Discrimination Act to all employees, including management and supervisors, and human resources staff that advise them.
Florida business-owners are reminded that one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including accommodating pregnancy-related limitations.
If your Florida business has questions about policies or training to ensure employees with pregnancy-related work restrictions have their light duty requests properly considered, you may contact our law office by email or by calling 1-772-465-5111.
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