No Accommodation Requirement
Thirty five years ago this week, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA).
The PDA, an amendment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, has proven to be a weak tool to combat a major societal problem; It requires employers to treat pregnant women like others in the workplace but it does not require employers to make even minimal accommodation for pregnancy-related conditions (such as difficulties standing for long period, lifting restrictions, insufficient bathroom breaks, etc.).
Efforts last year to address the PDA’s shortcomings died in the U.S. Congress but the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in its 2013-2016 strategic plan identified combating pregnancy discrimination as a top priority. The EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing the PDA, characterizes the problem as an “emerging and developing” issue. Specifically, the EEOC said it would address the problem of “accommodating pregnancy-related limitations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and the PDA.
The EEOC and Fair Employment Practice Agencies around the country reported 5,797 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2011.
True to its word, the EEOC has filed a spate of lawsuits this year to combat pregnancy discrimination. Most, if not all, of these lawsuits involve individual defendants and somewhat minor settlements but the EEOC’s effort raises awareness of the problem and, hopefully, puts employers on notice that they are being watched.
Here is a sampling of the lawsuits filed this year by the EEOC involving the PDA:
- EEOC v. Reed Pierce’s Sportsman’ Grille: A woman who was four months pregnant with her first child was fired because, her supervisor allegedly said, “The baby is taking its toll on you.” The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. After the defendant lost two motions to dismiss the case, it settled for $20,000.
- EEOC v. Ramin, Inc.: Ramin Inc., the owner of a Comfort Inn & Suites, allegedly fired a housekeeper after she reported her pregnancy because of supposed concerns about potential harm that her job could cause the baby. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The defendant agreed to pay $2,500 in back pay and $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
- EEOC v. Engineering Documentation Systems, Inc.: A management official allegedly made derogatory remarks about a pregnant worker and refused her request to move her office closer to the restroom to accommodate her nausea. While she was out on leave, the company changed her job description and then terminated her. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The defendant agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the case.
- EEOC v. James E. Brown & Associates, PLLC: A Washington based law firm offered Zorayda J. Moreira-Smith a position as an associate attorney in January 2011. The firm allegedly rescinded its job offer the same day after when Moreira-Smith told them she was six months pregnant and asked the firm about its maternity leave policies. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The defendant agreed to pay an $18,000 settlement, to implement a non-discrimination policy and to provide training to the firm’s personnel.
- EEOC v. Platinum P.T.S. Inc. D/B/A/ Platinum Production Testing Services: A clerk requested time off for medical treatment relating to her miscarriage. After she missed five days of work, the defendant fired her. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The defendant agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the pregnancy discrimination suit.
U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr., of Pennsylvania proposed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in 2012 to guarantee pregnant women the right to reasonable accommodation when the short-term physical effects of pregnancy conflict with the demands of a particular job, as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. The bill died in committee.