NEW JERSEY – It’s 2017, so why do we still discriminate against pregnant women at work?
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating female applicants or employees unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act almost 40 years ago to ensure that pregnancy didn’t force women out of work, yet unlawful discrimination still affects female employees.
In a recent case Roopchand v. Complete Care, a New Jersey appeals court ruled that a medical technician presented a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination and her case can continue to trial in this fall. Plaintiff Sandra Roopchand claims that her employers unlawfully terminated her due to her refusal to climb a ladder to wash windows after being diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy.
Ms. Roopchand worked for Dr. Richard Schaller and Dr. Robert Fallon in 2013 and 2014. Her duties included patient care, administrative duties along with restocking and cleaning exam rooms. In July 29, 2014, she told her supervisor Schaller that she was pregnant. Later, Ms. Roopchand notified him that her pregnancy was high-risk and that she had to see her doctor weekly. On that same day, Schaller called her, “a liability.” Later, Fallon asked Ms. Roopchand to clean a set floor-to-ceiling windows and she said, “I don’t do windows.” Roopchand was correct as her normal duties never included washing windows. In order to wash the windows, she would have needed a ladder. Fallon asked her two more times, and she refused again, so Defendants fired her.
On appeal, the judges noted that under a 2014 amendment to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, pregnancy is a protected class. Moreover, regardless of whether Ms. Roopchand’s request to visit her doctor weekly is viewed as a pregnancy accommodation, the plaintiff demonstrated sufficient evidence of pregnancy discrimination to survive summary judgment. In an unsigned opinion, a panel of judges ruled that she was required to perform an act outside her job description, an act, that other, non-pregnant workers were not required to perform, thus raising an inference of unlawful discrimination.
Roopchand’s case is reminisce of a case on appeal out of Louisiana. Ms. Eryon Luke was pregnant with twins and had a high-risk pregnancy. When she notified her employer that her doctor allowed her to continue working so long she did not lift anything over 30 pounds, her employer failed to accommodate her. Instead, her employer sent her home on unpaid leave and eventually fired Ms. Luke when she was 8 months pregnant.
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (such as an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Not only is pregnancy discrimination protected in New Jersey and Louisiana, it is protected under Federal law too. Federal law protects pregnant workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, impairments resulting from pregnancy may be disabilities. Such disabilities may include gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a condition characterized by pregnancy-induced hypertension and protein in the urine. An employer may have to provide reasonable accommodation, like time off from work or modifications that enable an employee to perform her job for a disability-related to pregnancy, absent undue hardship. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, undue hardship means significant difficulty or expense.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any part of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment. An employer that allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay must allow a pregnant employee to do the same. Moreover, employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence the same length of time that jobs are held open for employees on sick or temporary disability leave.
Additionally, under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid or paid leave that may be used for care of the new child. To be eligible, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave and the employer must have a specified number of employees.
Pregnant women have rights in the workplace! The skilled New York City sexual harassment attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC, have years of experience litigating claims of pregnancy discrimination. Working with our Philadelphia sexual harassment attorneys, we have recovered millions on behalf of our clients who have experienced sexual harassment discrimination. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly, do not hesitate to give our office a call at (800) 807-2209 for your free consultation.