Jury may hear pregnant EMT's accommodation suit
- An EMT who said her former employer fired her after it failed to find her a desk job in the last stage of her pregnancy can move forward with her lawsuit; an Illinois district court denied her employer summary judgment, finding that a jury could conclude it discriminated against her because of her pregnancy (Bobak v. Bright Star Ambulance, Inc., No. 16-cv-10397 (E.D. Ill. Feb. 12, 2019)).
- Despite a dispute between Bright Star Ambulance and Wendy Bobak, the court said a reasonable jury could find that the employer had fired Bobak, considering her supervisor told her the company was letting her go and said he had tried to get her a severance package. Bright Star, however, argued that Bobak quit because she could no longer work required 24-hour shifts; but the court held that those shifts were not required, given that job listings for her position mentioned nothing of the shifts and touted flexible hours.
- Bright Star argued that it could not have discriminated against Bobak as it "held no animosity" toward her and even congratulated her when she announced her pregnancy. The court reasoned, however, that a discrimination claim can exist without animosity.
As the court pointed out, an employer violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when it takes an adverse employment decision motivated by an employee's pregnancy. This means "'the PDA prohibits employers from forcing pregnant women who remain able to work to take leaves unless the employer can show that the leave is necessary because the condition of pregnancy is incompatible with continued employment,'" the court said, citing a previous decision.
This case also may remind employers about other PDA standards, specifically regarding light duty. Bobak asked Bright Star to give her a temporary desk job after her pregnancy rendered her unable to accomplish some of the duties her previous job required. It's important for employers to understand that the PDA doesn't necessarily require them to provide light duty for pregnant employees. But if an employer provides light duty or something similar for others who are unable to work — perhaps those undergoing cancer treatment or injured on the job — the employer needs to provide that for pregnant employees, too, experts previously told HR Dive.
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