Monday, February 25, 2013

Court of Appeal Increases Protections for Pregnant Workers

In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (February 21, 2013) 2013 WL 635266, the Court of Appeal ruled employees fired for not returning to work after a pregnancy can still sue for pregnancy discrimination even though the employee exhausted all permissible leave available under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL).

In this case of first impression, the court explained that an employee who exhausts all of her statutory pregnancy disability leave may still state a claim for employment discrimination under FEHA because the remedies of the PDLL are meant to “augment, rather than supplant, those set forth elsewhere in the FEHA.” The statutory leave of four months available under the PDLL is “in addition to” the remedies set forth in FEHA governing pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related medical conditions. Compliance with the PDLL, thus, does not relieve an employer of its obligations under FEHA, including the obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation (which may in some cases exceed four months) to an employee disabled by pregnancy, so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

In this case, the employee said Swissport terminated her because she was pregnant, was unable to work during her high-risk pregnancy, refused to grant her a reasonable accommodation in the form of allowing her to remain on leave until she gave birth, and terminated her because she sought such reasonable accommodations for her disability. The court concluded that these allegations were sufficient to state claims for sex and disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of FEHA.