- Costco did not discriminate against a pregnant worker by putting her on temporary leave, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Oquendo v. Costco Wholesale Corp., No. 20-1632 (1st Cir., April 29, 2021)).
- A Costco worker with hyperemesis gravidarum — severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy — alleged that the store failed to reasonably accommodate her. She asked a general manager if she could work the day shift for the rest of the pregnancy because her work schedule, which included some evening shifts, was difficult due to pregnancy-related medical issues. The general manager agreed, and the plaintiff produced a work restriction form from her doctor. The doctor approved an eight-hour workday and forbade her from lifting or carrying more than 10 pounds, in addition to a long list other movement restrictions. A company leave specialist concluded that because of her restrictions, she could not perform the essential functions of any job in the warehouse. The company put her on a pregnancy disability leave of absence. At the end of the leave, Costco restored the worker to her former job and gave her the same pay and benefits. She sued, claiming pregnancy, gender and disability discrimination under federal law.
- In granting Costco summary judgment, the 1st Circuit noted that the job description for the position included several physical activity requirements the worker's doctor ordered her to avoid, such as lifting 50 pounds. The court also pointed out that the worker did not make clear the necessity of her accommodation: "She never convincingly explains how working days — the only accommodation she requested — would have enabled her to perform the essential functions of her job with her doctor-imposed restrictions in place."
This case highlights the importance of having an up-to-date job description. Courts often give deference to employers when it comes to essential functions and one of the most effective ways for an employer to prove that certain duties are essential functions is with a job description. An essential function of a position is a fundamental job responsibility.
The court in this instance relied on the company's job description in concluding that the plaintiff couldn't perform the job's essential functions because of her pregnancy-related restrictions.
Guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicates that the commission will consider a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job as evidence of essential functions. The federal agency also takes into account several elements including the work experience of present or past employees in the job, the time spent performing a job's function and the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.