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EEOC to review two major pregnancy discrimination cases

Two new cases were filed with the EEOC recently will test the limits of disability accommodations for pregnant employees who are unable to perform their job duties as usual.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers cannot discriminate against someone simply because they are pregnant, and this means that they cannot treat a pregnant employee any differently than other similarly situated workers. A recent amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act goes one step further, incorporating pregnancy-related impairments into the list of disabilities for which employers must provide reasonable accommodations.

As many readers are aware, a "reasonable" accommodation can mean different things to different people. The cases both seek clarification on the accommodations that employers must provide for pregnant employees.

In one case, a woman was unable to get the exact documentation that her employer (a hospital) required to make an accommodation for her pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome. As a result she was unable to lift heavy loads as her job required and was temporarily placed on involuntary FMLA leave.

In the other case, a pregnant woman who worked for a shipping company was offered an accommodation in the form of a lighter-duty position, but one that would not count towards her benefits or seniority within the company. The lawsuit alleges that these differences made it a worse level of accommodation than what was offered to employees who were not pregnant.

This issue has been flagged as "emerging" in a recent strategic enforcement plan put forth by the EEOC, indicating that a definitive ruling will be necessary to help make sure that the rights of pregnant employees are not violated.

Source: Thomson Reuters News and Insight, "Two new cases seek to clarify pregnancy discrimination laws," Anna Louie Sussman, March 1, 2013

More information about pregnancy discrimination is available on our Pittsburgh employment law site.

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