The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations. A recent court of appeals case dealing with this issue points out the importance of treating all employees equally under any company policy you might maintain.
Summary of case: The plaintiff had worked for the defendant as an over-the-road truck driver. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant unlawfully terminated her when she became pregnant because she could not perform the heavy duty lifting aspects of her job. The defendant claimed her termination was a result of a pregnancy-blind policy denying light-duty work to employees who could not perform heavy lifting and also were not injured on the job. The plaintiff claimed the defendantâs light-duty policy was just a pretext. (Reeves v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc. (05/16/06 – No. 05-5271)
The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling which stated the light-duty policy was not a pretext because it did not take account of pregnancy and the defendant-employer did not make exceptions for nonpregnant employees while
enforcing the policy against pregnant employees.
The district court noted that âto hold otherwise [i.e., to hold for Reeves] would result in the Court affording pregnant women more benefits and better treatment than other employees, instead of equal benefits and the same treatment as intended by theâ? Act. âFor instance,â? the district court continued, âif the Court determined that Plaintiff was entitled to light-duty work . . . the effect would be to provide greater protection and benefits to pregnant women than to other employees who suffered from a non-work related injury or illness, such as a heart-attack or cancer.â?
The moral of the story for employers: make sure your company policy treats all employees the same..no special treatment, but equal. Additionally, apply it equally in all circumstances. One of the major reasons this employer prevailed was because the only âlight-duty workâ? they ever provided was for employees injured on the job and qualifying under workersâ compensation guideliness. If they had made an exception in any other circumstance, the employee would have had a better supported argument for discrimination.