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Can I Be Fired For Pregnancy-Related Work Restrictions?

| Jan 17, 2014 | gender-discrimination, pregnancy maternity rights |

Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer and Gender Wrongful Termination Attorney – Best, Top Answers: Can I lose my job for getting pregnant? Does my job have to accommodate  lifting restrictions while I’m pregnant? I was fired when I got pregnant – what should I do?

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Pregnancy discrimination is unlawful pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Fortunately for employees in Ohio, discrimination against pregnant women also violates Ohio R.C. § 4112.02(A), which makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice: “For any employer, because of the … sex … of any person, to discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment.” Even more specifically, R.C. § 4112.01(B) provides that: “For the purposes of divisions (A) to (F) of section 4112.02 of the Revised Code, the terms “because of sex” and “on the basis of sex” include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, any illness arising out of and occurring during the course of a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

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In a recent case that comes from Ohio’s controlling Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, an employee was allowed to proceed to trial on her pregnancy discrimination claim. The facts in this case involve a Certified Nursing Assistant or “CNA” named Jennifer Latowski. Jennifer was hired by her employer as a CNA to assist nursing home residents with basic daily activities such as bathing, eating, drinking, dressing, and moving around. She worked for her employer for over a year without receiving any negative reviews or discipline and passed several tests proving that she was an able and well-qualified employee.

Jennifer’s problems with her employer didn’t begin until she disclosed that she was pregnant. As soon as she disclosed this information, her employer demanded a doctor’s note showing that she didn’t have any work restrictions, and Jennifer complied. But, because Jennifer had suffered several miscarriages in the past, her doctor eventually determined that Jennifer’s pregnancy was high-risk. At this point, Jennifer gave her employer another doctor’s note explaining that she couldn’t lift anything weighing over 50 pounds.

Even though her employer had a policy of accommodating lifting restrictions for employees who were injured on the job, they refused to accommodate Jennifer’s pregnancy-related lifting restriction. Other employees who were in similar positions as Jennifer had been allowed to continue employment and be on “light duty” until their medical restrictions were resolved. However, Jennifer’s employer decided to terminate her almost immediately after discovering her doctor made this recommendation. Jennifer’s situation is all too common. Although employers, in general, cannot discriminate against an employee for being pregnant, it has become a common tactic for employers to deny pregnant employees any accommodations because their restrictions did not stem from a work related injury. In their very recent opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s decision, and allowed Jennifer to proceed to trial on the issue of whether her employer’s policy of denying pregnancy-related work restrictions was a pretext for unlawful discrimination, holding:
North Woods has responded with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for removing Latowski from the work schedule and ultimately terminating her employment: North Woods utilizes an economics-based policy of refusing to accommodate restrictions arising from injuries incurred outside the workplace. Therefore, Latowski has the burden of proving that North Woods’ policy is pretext for discrimination. “A plaintiff can demonstrate pretext by showing that the proffered reason (1) has no basis in fact, (2) did not actually motivate the defendant’s challenged conduct, or (3) was insufficient to warrant the challenged conduct.” Dews v. A.B. Dick Co., 231 F.3d 1016, 1021 (6th Cir. 2000). Latowski asserts that North Woods’ policy is so absurd that it could not have actually motivated the decision to terminate her employment.

A policy is not necessarily pretext for discrimination merely because we find it ill-advised: “The law does not require employers to make perfect decisions, nor forbid them from making decisions that others may disagree with.” Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 801 (6th Cir. 1996). However, “the reasonableness of an employer’s decision may be considered to the extent that such an inquiry sheds light on whether the employer’s proffered reason for the employment action was its actual motivation.” See Wexler v. White’s Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 576 (6th Cir. 2003) (en banc); see also In re Lewis, 845 F.2d 624, 633 (6th Cir. 1988) (“The more questionable the employer’s reason, the easier it will be for the jury to expose it as pretext.”). A reasonable jury could easily conclude that North Woods’ business decision—to implement a policy terminating otherwise qualified workers whose doctors imposed any restrictions arising from non-workplace injuries, even if those restrictions do not limit the employees’ ability to competently perform their jobs — is so lacking in merit as to be a pretext for discrimination.
If you are facing discrimination or harassment simply because you are pregnant, protect your legal rights — call the right attorney. Employers cannot harass, fire, wrongfully terminate, discriminate against, demote, or wrongfully discipline a female employee just because she got pregnant. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation at (216) 291-4744, you will meet with an attorney from The Spitz Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. Our pregnancy discrimination lawyers know your rights and will fight to protect them.

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