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Federal Court Narrowly Interprets Pregnancy Discrimination Decision

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s case in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a federal district court in Louisiana has halted a nursing assistant’s pregnancy discrimination claim against her former employer. While employed by Nottingham Regional Rehab Center (“Nottingham”), Eryon Luke learned that she was pregnant with twins and restricted from lifting above 30 pounds. Nottingham fired her when she was seven months pregnant because of the restriction.

The district upheld Nottingham’s right to terminate Ms. Luke. It reviewed the Supreme Court’s analysis for failure to accommodate in Young. Pregnant employees must show that non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions were accommodated. Ms. Luke had no evidence that Nottingham had ever accommodated lifting restrictions for non-pregnant employees previously. The facility asserted that all nursing assistants must be able to lift 30 pounds, and it stated that no light duty positions existed. She never requested any other accommodation such as lifting assistance or mechanical lifts. According to the district court, a pregnant employee seeking a specific accommodation must be limited in her Title VII claim to the denial of that particular accommodation. Ms. Luke was able to show that other pregnant employees with lifting restrictions were able to receive accommodation. However, the court contended that Nottingham was not required to treat all pregnant employees equally. Title VII only required that the facility treat pregnant women no less favorably than those individuals outside of their protected class.

Interestingly, the district court added that Ms. Luke’s pregnancy was among a limited 10 percent that are considered high risk, and that such pregnancies should be protected. The federal court was unwilling to engage in what it perceived as making new law. Yet, the court stated that, “No pregnant woman should, in 2016, be fired for being unable to lift more than 30 pounds.”