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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act Requires Equal Treatment

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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employers treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees who suffer from some injury or sickness that occurred outside of work. 

In our last post, we reviewed the D.C. Fire Department’s change to their pregnancy policy.  In this post we take a look at what the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires. 

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act:  A Brief History

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court found that under Title VII, discrimination based on pregnancy was not sex discrimination.  Unhappy with this interpretation, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) which became law in 1978.  The PDA amended Title VII and specified that sex discrimination does include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

Enforcement of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act 

Since 1978, a number of cases have applied the PDA.   This post reviewed cases with similar situations: 

  1. Pregnant employee requested light duty due to pregnancy
  2. Employer denied the request
  3. Employee sued

Two cases are instructive:

  • Airline employee who was required as a part of her job to lift loads in excess of twenty pounds requested light duty due to lower back discomfort as a result of her pregnancy.  Employer denied her request resulting in usage of sick days and extended medical leave.  Employer defended on the basis that all injuries or illnesses that were not work related were treated the same.  The Court found no PDA violation.
  • Police Officer was pregnant and was involved in a physical altercation with a suspect.  Doctor ordered light duty.  Employer advised no light duty was available resulting in extended leave of absence by the employee.  The Court found no PDA violation.

In these cases, the key factor examined by the Court was whether the employer treated the pregnant employee the same as a non-pregnant employee who was injured off the job.

What Employers Need to Know

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require preferential treatment for pregnant employees. Courts interpret the PDA to require that a pregnant employee be treated the sameas a non-pregnant employee who suffers from some injury or sickness that occurred outside of work.

In other words, if light duty is available for an employee who can’t perform their job because of a non-work related injury, it must be available for the pregnant employee as well.  Employers should ensure that if a policy is created or if one currently exists, the policy and its application must not result in unequal treatment.  Doing so could result in a violation of the PDA.    

In our next post we will discuss how to create a policy that is in-line with the requirements of the PDA.  We will review the D.C. Fire Department policy change and look at some of the hurdles that could be encountered.