Federal Agency Weighs in on Pregnancy Discrimination « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Federal Agency Weighs in on Pregnancy Discrimination

EEOC Publishes Controversial Enforcement Guidelines

On July 14, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its first “guidance” on pregnancy discrimination since 1983.  EEOC enforcement guidances are the agency’s interpretations of law.  This set offers EEOC views on what constitutes unlawful pregnancy-based discrimination under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). The guidance also covers how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — as amended in 2008 to broaden the definition of disability — applies to pregnancy-related impairments.  These guidelines include covered employer obligations to provide pregnant employees equal access to employment benefits, such as leave, light duty, and health coverage.

The EEOC also published a “Fact Sheet for Small Business” for covered employers (essentially those with 15 or more persons on payroll), explaining when and how PDA and ADA requirements apply.

EEOC commissioner Victoria Lipnic has criticized the updated guidance for directing employers to modify job requirements for pregnant and lactating workers experiencing no complications and thus not disabled under the ADA.  Ms. Lipnic contends the guidance embraces “the novel position that under the language of the PDA, [any] pregnant worker is, as a practical matter, entitled to ‘reasonable accommodation’…. No federal Court of Appeals has adopted this position; indeed, those which have addressed the question have rejected it.”

Ms. Lipnic also questioned the timing of the EEOC’s publication: “The most significant questions addressed in the Pregnancy Guidance are pending before … the U.S. Supreme Court for review and decision.  See Young v. United Parcel Services, Inc…. (U.S. July 1, 2014)…. the credibility of the Commission is done no favor by issuing any guidance on these points while these critical questions are pending – particularly if the Court adopts a position which directly contravenes that taken in the Guidance….”

As always, employers should proceed deliberately in assessing how to accommodate workers with pregnancy-related limitations, including under possibly more stringent state laws such as California’s.

For more information, contact one of our attorneys, Timothy Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.