Healthcare network pays $1.75M to settle pregnancy accommodation suit
- Family HealthCare Network will pay $1.75 million to settle a disability and pregnancy-discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to an agency statement. The Visalia, California-based healthcare company also will provide other relief to plaintiffs in the case.
- EEOC's lawsuit alleged Family HealthCare systematically denied reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers and those with disabilities, refused to accommodate them with additional leave and fired them when they couldn't return to work by the end of their leave. The company is also alleged to have dismissed employees before they used up their approved leave, and EEOC said the employer wouldn't rehire them when they tried to return to work. These actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA); and Title I of the 1991 Civil Rights Act, EEOC said.
- In addition to the the $1.75 million in monetary relief, Family HealthCare must retain an EEO monitor to review and revise its policies and implement effective training on preventing discrimination and harassment for its owners, HR, supervisors and staff, EEOC said.
Federal law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against an employee on the basis of factors related to pregnancy, experts have previously told HR Dive. This is spelled out in the PDA, and EEOC continues to rigorously enforce the law. Further anti-discrimination protections are provided by certain state laws.
What may be less clear to employers, however, is the extent to which they must accommodate pregnant workers. EEOC takes the position that if an employer offers an accommodation to similarly-situated workers, it must offer the same accommodation to pregnant workers, or else offer a non-discriminatory reason as to why it would not do so. This has been the basis for a number of lawsuits in 2018, including a recent EEOC suit against Walmart in which the agency alleged pregnant workers in one distribution center were prevented from participating in the company's light-duty program.
The ADA entitles workers with disabilities to accommodation, assuming there's no undo hardship to the employer. Normal pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA, but pregnant employees may have associated medical conditions for which they may require a reasonable accommodation.
Employers can minimize risk by knowing the laws and training managers, supervisors and staff in complying with those laws. EEOC offers employers guidance on prohibited employment practices and training assistance on its website.