On August 10, 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Spees v. James Marine, Inc., which affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer in part.
The plaintiff, Heather Spees, discovered that she was pregnant shortly after being hired as a welder for James Marine, Inc. Ms. Spees’ physician informed her that she could continue to work as a welder as long as she wore a respirator. Because her employer did not believe that she could continue to work safely as a welder, Ms. Spees was instructed to return to her physician and obtain a more restrictive note. As a result, she was reassigned to a light duty position in her employer’s tool room. Two months later, Ms. Spees was placed on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. Because Ms. Spees’ had not yet worked 90 days for her employer, she was entitled to only two weeks of approved leave and was not eligible for FMLA leave. When her employment was terminated, Ms. Spees filed suit alleging pregnancy and disability discrimination.
The district court granted summary judgment to the employer for all of Ms. Spees’ claims. However, the Court Appeals only affirmed the district court’s judgment in regards to Ms. Spees’ claims for the termination of her employment. The Court agreed that her employment termination was based on a combination of her being unable to return to work and her lack of available medical leave, not upon her pregnancy.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s judgment regarding to Ms. Spees’ relating to her reassignment to the tool room. The Court found that the transfer to the tool room did constitute an adverse employment action, even though Ms. Spees was paid the same salary. The Court noted that a position in the tool room did not require any specific training, unlike the welder position. The Court also noted that Ms. Spees was assigned to the night shift, which adversely affected her ability to raise her daughter as a single mother. The Court found that there was evidence demonstrating that Ms. Spees’ pregnancy was at least a motivating factor in the decision to transfer her to the tool room. Finally, the Court found that Ms. Spees could make out a prima facie case that her employer regarded her as having a disability when making the decision to transfer her to the tool room.