In a September 15, 2011 blog entry we noted that courts have recently held that renal cancer and claustrophobia are disabilities under the expanded definition of disability under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”).   On the other hand, another court has recently held that while pregnancy-related complications may be a disability under the ADA, nonetheless if they are temporary in nature they may not “substantially limit a life activity” and therefore may not, in fact, constitute a disability.   

After suffering a miscarriage, the employee in this case became pregnant again, and began to experience symptoms such as bleeding, which, her doctor advised her, could cause another miscarriage if she continued the strenuous activities which her employment position required her to perform to a degree. When the employer refused to consider a light-duty accommodation, her doctor directed that she should not work in any capacity and was “totally incapacitated.”  She was terminated.

The federal appeals court first noted that an amendment to Title VII prohibits discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” as a form of gender discrimination.  However, in this case, the court found that the employee could not make out a prima facie case of such gender discrimination. Therefore, the court next took up the question as to whether the employee’s pregnancy-related complications rendered her disabled under the ADA.  

The court first found that most courts have held that “pregnancy, absent unusual circumstances, is not a physical impairment,” and that “unusual circumstances” in a pregnancy case has generally been found to be an abnormal pregnancy – one with complications arising out of, but distinguishable from the pregnancy itself. In this case, the court therefore stated, the employee’s condition “may support the inference that these complications were not the result of a normal pregnancy,” however, the court held that “even if the evidence supported that inference,” nonetheless “her physical impairment did not substantially limit a major life activity” – which the employee claimed was reproducing and lifting.   

Because pregnancy “is, by its very nature, of limited duration, and any complications which arise from a pregnancy generally dissipate once a woman gives birth,” the court held that the employee’s pregnancy-related complications did not substantially limit her from the major life activities of reproducing and lifting.