Pregnancy Discrimination Case Settled, EEOC Hits Hard
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced earlier this November that it has reached a settlement agreement with the Muskegon River Youth Home. The youth home, which served as a detention facility for juveniles in the state of Michigan, had an employment policy that required employees to take particular steps as soon as they became pregnant.
Once an employee learned that they were going to have a baby, the employment policies and procedures handbook at the Muskegon River Youth home stated that she must notify the youth home immediately about the pregnancy. After this notification, she was required to go to a doctor's office and get a doctor's note giving her permission to continue working in the youth home before she would be allowed to continue working.
If women at the Muskegon River Youth Home were unable to produce a doctor's certificate, they were forced to go on a leave of absence throughout their pregnancy. This leave of absence was unpaid. Women who were pregnant and unable to provide a doctor's note were also required to continue using unpaid leave until they had not been pregnant for 30 days or more.
The reasoning behind this policy had to do with liability. The Muskegon River Youth Home claimed that they simply wanted to avoid the possibility of lawsuits from pregnant women who had become sick or injured while on the job in part because of their pregnancies.
Workers from the Muskegon River Youth Home sued in district court, alleging violations of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prevents employers from engaging in discriminatory practices against pregnant women.
The EEOC announced its lawsuit in late September, and by early November a tentative settlement plan had already been decided upon. Under the terms of the settlement, the EEOC will be able to monitor the activities of the Muskegon River Youth Home for evidence of continued pregnancy discrimination for a period of up to ten years. The youth home will be required to make regular reports to the EEOC, as well as to immediately change the policy that led to the lawsuit.
According to the EEOC, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees. By requiring pregnant employees to obtain specific medical permission to continue working, which was not normally required for employees, the Muskegon River Youth Home put itself at odds with the PDA. The EEOC has been cracking down on violations of this law over the last year, and it's likely that there will be more PDA lawsuits in the next several months as this law continues to be enforced and interpreted.
There is some indication that the EEOC may also begin to pursue pregnancy discrimination related claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC is already appealing in a Texas lactation discrimination case, claiming that both Title VII and the PDA can apply to cases where pregnancy related conduct is being discriminated against, because pregnancy is a condition that is dependent on the sex of the person carrying the baby.
Sources: eeoc.gov, uscourts.gov