Three new pregnancy discrimination lawsuits filed by the EEOC demonstrate that the EEOC is serious in pursuing its new agenda set forth in the Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.
The Guidance largely sets forth well-established interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the interplay with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and Title VII.
The first two suits also show that health care providers are still in the EEOC’s cross hairs, as we have often posted.
First, the EEOC sued a pharmacy on behalf of two pregnant employees allegedly fired by the company president. Both claim to have notified the president of their pregnancies and both claim that he began making derogatory comments about the pregnancies as one woman’s doctor visits became more frequent, and the other asked for a schedule change so she could attend her doctor’s appointments. Both were ultimately fired.
In the second such suit, a Chicago hospital was sued by the EEOC for refusing to accommodate an employee with a high-risk pregnancy with medical restrictions. She asked to be exempt from the task of restraining disorderly and combative patients, something an injured male security guard sought as an accommodation and was therefore assigned to a desk job.
She was fired instead.
One EEOC attorney said that “You can’t deny a female employee a temporary change in her duties due to her pregnancy while providing the same accommodation to a man. That’s pregnancy discrimination and it can’t pass muster under federal law.”
Another EEOC attorney made clear the EEOC’s targeting of health care providers under the ADA when he said that the hospital “is an exceptionally important institution in the community it serves. One would hope that it would be a beacon for compliance with all our civil rights laws, particularly those which prohibit discrimination on account of pregnancy. This is not what appears to have happened here. “
In a third case, the EEOC sued a Washington organic farm for allegedly firing a woman soon after she said that she was pregnant with twins. At the company’s inquiry, she said that she had no medical restrictions. She was soon thereafter fired, allegedly for failing to follow her medical restrictions, although she says that “Not only did my doctor assure me that I was okay to perform my job duties, but thankfully she told me that is was illegal for the company to fire me for being pregnant.”
The director of the EEOC regional office warned: “Employers be aware: You do not have the medical or legal authority to decide when and how your pregnant employee works. Leave this arena to your employees and their doctors.”