Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that an Illinois nursing facility will pay $400,000 to settle a workplace pregnancy discrimination suit. According to the suit, the employer denied pregnant employees accommodations and required them to submit unnecessary medical examinations. Late last year, President Joseph R. Biden signed an omnibus spending bill that included legislation expanding and strengthening pregnancy accommodation laws and protections for nursing mothers.

Background of the Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination

The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that the nursing facility employer held a policy that required employees to inform the company of any pregnancy. The policy also required them to obtain a work release note from their physician stating they could return without restrictions. Furthermore, the employer denied any reasonable accommodations for employees who had pregnancy-related restrictions. The employer terminated the pregnant employees even though other employees with similar restrictions received accommodations. Such conduct constitutes workplace pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnant Worker Protections Under the Law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Title VII’s definition of this protected class expands to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy-related conditions. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII and prohibits workplace pregnancy discrimination and harassment based on a pregnancy-related condition. Under the PDA, employees temporarily disabled due to pregnancy may take disability leave if the employer normally allows it in other situations.

Additionally, all businesses that are subject to a state, federal, or local law regarding disability discrimination must comply with their legal duty to reasonably accommodate qualified individuals with a disability. There are exceptions for instances where the requested modification poses an “undue hardship” for the business. Coverage of the law breaks down thusly:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in addition to any applicable state or local laws.
  • Meanwhile, state or local law covers those with less than 15 employees. (Laws vary by state, city, or county.)

In addition, the ADA prohibits employers from requiring employee medical examinations that are not job-related or consistent with business necessity.

Settlement in the Case

The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (the court). In the court’s consent decree, the employer will pay a $400,000 settlement distributed among the 11 affected employees. The consent decree prevents the employer from future workplace pregnancy discrimination. This enjoinment includes any denial of job modifications for pregnant workers normally available to other, similarly-situated employees. Finally, the employer may not ask pregnant employees to obtain a doctor’s note stating they can return to work without restrictions. Subsequently, the employer also agreed to provide anti-discrimination training, post a notice of the lawsuit resolution, and report specific equal employment opportunity information to the EEOC.