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EPLI: Allegations of Pregnancy Discrimination on the Rise


EPLI Allegations of Pregnancy Discrimination on the RisePregnancy-Related Employment Discrimination Claims Climb

In 1978, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to protect pregnant women from discrimination on the job, however more than 35 years later there are employees being denied reasonable accommodations that other workers receive. This according to a report released a few months ago by the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance.

The report, “It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers,” finds that while workers with back trouble or other ailments often receive accommodations on the job, pregnant workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks and requests to avoid heavy lifting or to sit down for a while on long shifts.

Furthermore, pregnancy discrimination claims, according to the Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have been steadily increasing over the past 15 years. In fiscal 2011, 5,797 pregnancy discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC, and $17.2 million was paid out by employers to settle those claims. The figures don’t include settlements or judgments that were the result of litigation.

Part of the problem is that federal laws can be quite confusing for employers. For example, most employers understand the EEOC defines “pregnancy discrimination” as “treating a woman unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of pregnancy by refusing to hire, train, promote or provide equal pay, insurance or other benefits because of an employee’s pregnancy.  An employer also cannot discriminate against a pregnant worker or applicant because of customer, co-worker or client prejudice.

But in 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by extending legal protection to temporary impairments of “major life activities” in the ADA Amendments Act.  Although pregnancy is not a “disability,” temporary medical complications resulting from pregnancy, such as severe nausea, gestational diabetes, sciatica, post-partum depression, etc., may constitute “disabilities” within the meaning of the ADA.  If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the EEOC expects the employer to treat her in the same way as other temporarily disabled employees.  If an employer provides light duty, alternative assignments, disability or other leave to temporarily disabled employees, the same benefits must be afforded workers temporarily disabled by pregnancy. But this needs to be clarified by the EEOC so that employers have clear guidance.

One recent case, for example, that made headline news involved a former UPS driver who sued her employer in federal court when the parcel company allegedly refused to honor her doctor’s note recommending that she not lift more than 20 pounds. According to the report, UPS routinely gave light-duty work and limited lifting to other workers with medical conditions, “such as high blood pressure, diabetes, vision or hearing problems, limb impairments, sleep apnea, and emotional problems.” The pregnant worker claimed she was instead told to leave the building and not return until she was no longer pregnant, “because I was too much of a liability.” For the six-and-halfmonths of her pregnancy, she had no pay and no health insurance. She filed a case in federal court saying UPS had violated the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS stated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act did not apply to her and won in federal court and on appeal. The case will now be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What can employers do to stem claims of pregnancy-related discrimination? Early intervention and resolution can improve productivity and job satisfaction while mitigating expensive claims of discrimination and retaliation. For instance, supervisors who are trained to conduct effective interactive discussions and to identify appropriate accommodations can help reduce employee frustration and pregnancy-related charges. Human resource professionals can help managers and employees explore reasonable accommodations through interactive discussions before claims are filed.

Of course, employers should review their employment practices and be sure that they are in line with the law. If there is any gray area or confusion, speak with legal counsel. Also, employers should have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) in place in the event of a discrimination claim. EPLI will provide coverage for defense costs and any judgments and settlements if an employer is found liable. Axis Insurance Services specializes in Employment Practices Liability coverage and can help you secure the insurance solution you need. Give us a call at (877) 787-5258 to find out more about our insurance programs.

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Blogged on: August 20, 2014 by Mike Smith
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