Employers often attempt to provide light duty work to pregnant employees consistent with their medical restrictions. However, a recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' decision reminds us that the law requires the non-discriminatory treatment of pregnant employees, not necessarily special accommodations such as light duty.
In Arizanovska v Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the plaintiff presented her employer with a doctor's note stating that, due to her pregnancy, she could not lift more than ten pounds. This presented a serious problem, as the plaintiff, a stock clerk, was required to lift up to 50 pounds. Because there were no other positions available and she could not perform her job functions, she was placed on an unpaid leave of absence.
The Seventh Circuit rejected the plaintiff's pregnancy and national origin discrimination claims because she could not establish that any similarly-situated employees had received light duty work when they could not perform required lifting.
A retaliation claim raised by the plaintiff also failed, as the record was clear that her unpaid leave of absence was due to her inability to perform her job duties, as a result of her medical restrictions, not because she had filed an EEOC charge. A personnel manager had unwisely made reference to the plaintiff's charge in an e-mail reciting the sequence of events between the parties, but this did not indicate that the charge was a motivating factor in the employer's decision to place her on an unpaid leave.