A former employee’s claim that she was pregnant and subject to lifting restrictions failed to allege a valid claim under the Americas with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. LaCount v. South Lewis SH OPCO, LLC, Case No. 16-CV-0545-CVE-TLW (N.D. Okla. May 5, 2017).
When the employee, a certified nursing assistant, was approximately 13 weeks pregnant, she provided the defendant with a doctor’s note restricting her from lifting more than 25 pounds. The defendant placed the employee on medical leave, and terminated the employee’s employment after she exhausted her Family and Medical Leave Act leave. The employee filed suit alleging disability and pregnancy discrimination under federal and state law. The court dismissed the employee’s ADA claim, finding, “Plaintiff has not alleged that she was pregnant and that she had a related mental or physical impairment. Instead, she alleges that she was pregnant and her doctor imposed a lifting restriction, but she does not claim that she had an abnormal or high-risk pregnancy.”
Pregnancy accommodation can be a confusing area of law for many employers, and this case serves as a reminder that pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA. The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues provides helpful guidance about situations in which a pregnant employee may be entitled to reasonable accommodation. Per the Enforcement Guidance, an employer’s obligation to accommodate a pregnant employee is triggered with respect to “limitations resulting from pregnancy-related conditions that constitute a disability or for limitations resulting from the interaction of the pregnancy with an underlying impairment.” https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm
Although a pregnancy, by itself, is not a disability under the ADA, employers must also bear in mind their obligations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and applicable state law. For example, the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work due to an impairment. A number of states require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, regardless of whether there is an underlying medical condition.