After being denied reasonable accommodations from her employer when she learned she was pregnant, a Pell City woman filed a lawsuit claiming her rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act were being violated.
An EMT for Pell City filed a lawsuit against her employer, Rural/Metro Corporation, back in 2016 over allegations that the company violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act after it “refused to grant her request for light duty after her doctor told her it was unsafe for her to lift more than 50 pounds while pregnant.” In November 2018, the EMT, Kimberlie Michelle Durham, was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and the case has now moved on to a federal appeals court.
When commenting on the case, Durham’s lawyer, Heather Leonard, said, “All she really wanted to do was go back to work. She needed and wanted to work, and they wouldn’t allow her that opportunity.”
Gillian Thomas, the co-counsel on Durham’s case, hopes the case will help “reframe federal law around how employers must accommodate pregnant workers.” Thomas is the senior staff attorney at the ACLU women’s rights project. She said, “We have to get the message to employers that pregnancy is a normal part of a woman’s life and a normal part of the workplace. If everyone cooperates and tries to find a solution, it can be done.”
What happened, though? Well, according to the suit, after Durham learned she was pregnant in the fall of 2015, her nurse practitioner told her she “should not lift more than 50 pounds.” However, “as an EMT, lifting people onto stretchers was part of her job.” According to Durham, soon after learning she was pregnant, she asked her “supervisor for temporary reassignment to dispatch or another light-duty position, accommodations she said Rural/Metro had made for other employees.” In response, she was told the company “only offered modified duty assignment for employees who had lifting restrictions as the result of a worker’s compensation injury.”
It’s also important to note that since Durham had only been working for Rural/Metro for less than a year, she wasn’t yet eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because of this, her employer told her the only option available to her was to “take unpaid leave for up to 90 days, during which she wouldn’t be allowed to take another job.” If, by chance, she failed to return by the date of her company’s choosing, “she would forfeit her employment,” according to the suit.
When commenting on the case, Elizabeth Gedmark, the senior staff attorney and director for the Southern office of a Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center, said “This (discrimination) is happening across the country, and especially in states like Alabama where there’s not a clear pregnant worker fairness law.”
Thomas added that her office often “sees pregnancy discrimination cases filed by women in caregiver jobs, like nurses, EMTs, and in male-dominated fields, such as law enforcement or prison guard work.”
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court has already covered the topic of pregnancy discrimination to ensure certain protections for pregnant women. For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 2015 states that “employers must provide the same accommodations to pregnant employees that they provide to non-pregnant employees unless they can justify the difference in treatment.”
Prior to Durham’s case, Rural/Metro allegedly had a “well-established program of reassigning or creating positions for people who’d been injured on the job, and said pregnant workers should be afforded the same benefit.” Thomas added:
“All of us who litigate these issues hoped (the Supreme Court decision) would usher in a new era of employers granting these accommodations more often than not. As this case shows, there are plenty of employers that just don’t get it.”