- A Dallas-based drug and alcohol rehab center violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it rejected a pregnant worker's request for additional time off and then fired her when she didn't return after the original approved leave, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit.
- The worker was granted 30 days of maternity leave and then asked for an additional 30 days upon her doctor's recommendation that she have eight weeks to recover from her caesarean section. Even though the company had granted leave longer than 30 days to non-pregnant employees, her request for an additional four weeks was denied, and she was fired when she didn't return to work after the original 30-day leave, the EEOC says.
- The EEOC has asked for compensatory and punitive damages, back pay and injunctive relief. "If an employer accommodates portions of its workplace, it must offer those same accommodations to pregnant employees," an EEOC attorney said in the statement announcing the lawsuit. "In this case, the employer granted exceptions to its leave policy for non-pregnant employees but did not afford its pregnant employee the same opportunity."
"Discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a prohibited form of sex discrimination," according to the EEOC. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) doesn't require accommodations, it does require that employers treat pregnant women and those affected by related medical conditions the same as non-pregnant applicants or employees with similar abilities or inabilities to work.
The issue of discriminatory treatment often comes up when an employer denies light duty to a pregnant worker but has granted it to other workers, such as those who have been injured on the job or who have disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, employers should know that other types of accommodations, including leave, can be actionable under the PDA if they are not handled properly.
An employer cannot impose greater restrictions on pregnancy-related medical leave than it does on medical leave, the EEOC says. The federal agency provides several examples. An employer cannot:
- "Fire a pregnant employee for being absent if her absence is covered by the employer's sick leave policy."
- Require employees limited by pregnancy or a related medical condition to use up their sick leave before using other types of leave if it does not place the same requirement upon employees who ask for leave based on other types of medical conditions.
- Provide a shorter maximum period for maternity leave or a pregnancy-related condition than for other types of medical leave or short-term disability leave.
- "Must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to take leave without pay to the same extent that other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work are allowed to do so."
In addition, the Commission notes that an employer must also hold open a job for pregnancy-related absences for the same length of time that jobs are held open for employees on sick or temporary disability leave.
Compliance training on state and federal legal requirements for pregnant workers can prevent worker requests from turning into legal actions.