When an employee is pregnant, employers are understandably concerned about discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) prohibits employers with 15 employees or more from discriminating on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the act explains an employer’s responsibility under the PDA, including examples of “pregnancy-related impairments” that may constitute disabilities that require reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
However, as a recent Oklahoma case affirms, pregnancy itself is not an ADA disability. In LaCount v. South Lewis SH OPCO, LLC, a former employee — a certified nursing assistant — presented her employer with a doctor’s note restricting her from lifting more than 25 pounds when she was 13 weeks pregnant. The employer placed her on medical leave and then terminated her when she had exhausted her Family and Medical Leave Act. The ex-employee filed a suit claiming disability and pregnancy discrimination.
The court dismissed the ADA claim because the employee did not claim that she had a mental or physical impairment in addition to the pregnancy. Even though she had a doctor’s lifting restriction, she did no claim that her pregnancy was abnormal or high-risk.
Since pregnancy discrimination can be confusing, this case is a good reminder that pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA. However, employers should make sure that they fulfill their obligations under the PDA and state law. Practically speaking, avoiding liability means treating all employees equally, and ensuring that pregnant employees have the same benefits and treatment as other employees. We are happy to answer related questions or concerns.