A Better Balance and the Center for WorkLife Law recently won a large victory for pregnant worker’s rights.
A Better Balance and the Center for WorkLife Law recently struck a victory for pregnant workers in the Eleventh Circuit. The two groups were joined by 20 civil right and advocacy groups who filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief before a high-level federal court ruled that “employers who accommodate workers with on-the-job injuries but deny accommodations to pregnant workers with similar restrictions must justify their actions to be in compliance with the law.” As a result, the court “rejected the argument that these workers were not “similar in their ability or inability to work.”
The amicus was filed in response to an EMT’s experience while she was pregnant. According to the EMT, Kimberlie Michelle Durham, she was “forced out of her job when her employer refused to accommodate a 50-pound lifting restriction that had been recommended by her doctor after she became pregnant” in 2015. However, the company “had a policy of offering light-duty positions to non-pregnant employees with similar limitations.” As a result, she sued the company under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, “but her case was tossed out by the district court, which had determined that Durham’s employer could lawfully deny her accommodations because workers whose lifting restrictions arose from on-the-job injuries were not sufficiently ‘similar’ to Durham.”
Fortunately, the Eleventh Circuit “rejected this distinction on appeal, holding that, neither a non-pregnant EMT who is limited to lifting 10 or 20 pounds nor a pregnant EMT who is restricted to lifting 50 pounds or less can lift the required 100 pounds to serve as an EMT.” The court further argued that, since “neither can meet the lifting requirement, they are the same in their ‘inability to work’ as an EMT…satisfying the plaintiff’s prima facie requirement to establish that she was similar [to other employees] in their ability or inability to work.”
Believe it or not, this is actually a big win for the rights of pregnant workers. Unfortunately for Durham, the win was achieved long after she needed the “modest accommodations to continue safely working throughout her pregnancy.” Additionally, her ordeal shined a spotlight on the fact that many pregnant women who filed pregnancy discrimination claims in court after being denied reasonable accommodations in their jobs often lose their cases. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of pregnancy discrimination are tossed or dismisses, largely because there is a “lack of clarity in the law.”
If Durham’s victory has taught us anything about the federal Pregnancy Discrimination law it’s that there is still a “need for a clear law to help other pregnant workers like her, who cannot afford a lengthy court battle to secure the accommodations they need.” Fortunately, organizations like A Better Balance are working hard to pass additional legislation to protect pregnant workers, including the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), “which would clarify that pregnant workers are entitled to modest workplace accommodations absent undue hardship on their employer.”