SEREDNYJ v. BEVERLY HEALTHCARE (August 26, 2011)
Beverly Healthcare hired Victoria Seredynj as activity director at its Golden Living nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana in 2006. Included within Seredynj's duties were several that were physically strenuous. Other employees frequently helped Seredynj with those duties. Seredynj learned that she was pregnant in January of 2007. She informed her supervisor and continued with her normal tasks. After a few months, however, she developed complications. Her doctor told her not to engage in strenuous activities. Under Beverly's modified work policy, Seredynj was not entitled to any restricted or limited duty. She was therefore told that she would not be allowed to return to work until she was released to full duty. Beverly terminated Seredynj's employment in March. Her attorney soon thereafter requested an Americans with Disabilities Act or Pregnancy Discrimination Act accommodation. Beverly declined. Seredynj filed suit against Beverly alleging gender discrimination under Title VII, pregnancy discrimination under the PDA, disability discrimination under the ADA, and retaliation. Judge Miller (N.D. Ind.) granted summary judgment to Beverly. Seredynj appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judge Bauer and District Judge Young affirmed. The Court first addressed the PDA and Title VII claims. The legal analysis is the same for both. Seredynj proceeded under both the direct and indirect methods of proof. The Court rejected Seredynj's argument that Beverly's modified work policy, which only accommodates ADA-disabled employees, was evidence of discrimination. The PDA only requires that employers treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees. Beverly’s work policy does just that and is not direct evidence of discrimination. The Court also rejected her argument that Beverly's refusal to accommodate her, given that other employees frequently assisted her with strenuous tasks before her pregnancy, was direct evidence of discrimination,. The Court pointed out that voluntary assistance is materially different than a formal accommodation. The Court concluded that she failed under the direct method. Under the indirect method, Seredynj had the burden to show that a similarly situated non-pregnant employee was treated more favorably. None of the individuals suggested by Seredynj, however, were similarly situated. Her indirect claim must fail. Summary judgment was properly granted on the gender and pregnancy discrimination claims. The court turned to the ADA. It's first inquiry was whether she was disabled under the Act, an issue of first impression in federal appellate courts. Under the Act, a disability is either: a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, b) a record of such an impairment, or c) being regarded as having such an impairment. The Court addressed each possibility. First, although pregnancy is not an impairment, the Court concluded that a pregnancy with the complications experienced by Seredynj may be an impairment. The Court did not definitively resolve that issue, given its further treatment of the claim. The impairment at issue must substantially limit a major life activity. Generally short-term, temporary conditions do not meet the definition. Here, Seredynj’s condition did not even last as long as her pregnancy and did not affect her ability to conceive again. The Court therefore concluded that Seredynj was not disabled under the first possibility. For the same reasons, Seredynj was not disabled under the record of disability possibility. Finally, the Court stated that the record did not support any belief on Beverly’s part that Seredynj had such an impairment. Summary judgment in Beverly's favor on the ADA claim was therefore appropriate. The Court turned to the retaliation claim, which consisted of Seredynj's claim that Beverly looked for an opportunity to fire her after receiving her attorney’s letter seeking an accommodation. To prevail, Seredynj must prove that she suffered an adverse employment action. Since Beverly terminated her employment before it even received the attorneys letter, she cannot possibly do that -- summary judgment was proper.