Lessons in Applying The Pregnancy Act to Light Duty Jobs
Many employers limit light duty jobs to workers who have suffered work-related injuries. However, a new case out of the Eleventh Circuit tells us that the employer that fails to offer these light duty jobs to pregnant employees with medical restrictions risks being liable for discrimination. Durham v. Rural/Metro Corp., 18-14687 (11th Cir., 4/17/20).
The employer apparently thought it was on safe ground limiting the light duty jobs to those with workers who had suffered work-related injuries. However, when a plaintiff sued under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Eleventh Circuit determined the issue as whether the employer accommodated others who were not pregnant but were "similar in their ability or inability to work" to the plaintiff. The court went on to find that the pregnant plaintiff's temporary inability to lift more than 50 pounds and her colleagues inability to lift more than 10 or 20 pounds rendered her and her colleagues injured on the job equally unable to perform the 100-pound lifting duties. Having found that the pregnant plaintiff and her colleagues who were injured on the job were "similar in their ability or inability to work," the court concluded that the employer would be deemed to have discriminated against the pregnant plaintiff unless it could show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for treating the pregnant employee differently from non-pregnant employees.
Editor's Note - The bottom line is that the case law increasingly suggests that employers need to treat employees with pregnancy-related medical restrictions similarly to other employees with medical restrictions when it comes to making accommodations at work.