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EEOC seeks pregnancy discrimination law clarifications

Five years ago, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In so doing, it effectively expanded the rights of pregnant women in the workplace. In particular, Congress clarified that disability protections extend to pregnancy-related impairments. Unfortunately, the passage of this amendment has not effectively ended pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

When disabled persons are employed, they are guaranteed the right to certain reasonable accommodations under the ADA. If employers fail to provide these accommodations, they can be subject to a discrimination suit or other action brought by either the employee or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The 2008 ADA amendment practically extends the right of reasonable accommodation to pregnant workers. However, not all employers are honoring and respecting that right.

As a result, the EEOC recently filed two related complaints seeking judicial clarification on the rights of reasonable accommodation for pregnant workers under the law. One complaint involves a worker who was allegedly involuntarily forced onto unpaid leave from her position because her pregnancy ultimately required that she not lift heavy loads. Another complaint involved the alleged reassignment of a pregnant woman to a dissimilar and worse position due to her need for pregnancy-related accommodations.

In bringing these cases before the courts, the EEOC is likely hoping to send a message to all employers that the 2008 amendment guarantees most pregnant workers the right of certain reasonable accommodations. In failing to accommodate these two women, their employers are now the subject of EEOC and public scrutiny that could have easily been avoided had they simply followed the law.

Source: Thomson Reuters News and Insight, “Two new cases seek to clarify pregnancy discrimination laws,” Anna Louie Sussman, Apr. 1, 2013