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Dec 3, 2013

By Eric B. Meyer

An employee-plaintiff who claims that she was discriminated against under the Americans with Disabilities Act due to her pregnancy alone, will lost her ADA claim 10 times out of 10. This is because pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA.

But what if that same employee plaintiff with an ADA claim alleges that the discrimination relates not to her pregnancy, but rather to her morning sickness?


Pregnancy issues for employers

Generally, pregnancy-related impairments are not disabilities either.

In Wonasue v. Univ. of MD Alumni Assoc., a pregnant employee’s morning sickness was so severe that it sent her to the ER. Eventually, however, she was released to work with zero restrictions. Still, that employee later claimed that she was denied certain workplace accommodations, which ultimately led to her resignation.

Then she sued, claiming discrimination under the ADA.

And she lost.

The court noted that “severe and unusual medical complications” to a woman’s pregnancy, threatening the mother’s and the unborn baby’s health, may be a “disability” under the ADA. However, in this particular case, the pregnant plaintiff’s conditions were neither severe nor unusual. Therefore, her failure to accommodate claim failed.

But pregnancies can create accommodation obligations for employers.

Sometimes, you need to accommodate

]While pregnancy itself is not considered a disability under the ADA, it could exacerbate an employee’s existing disability — for example, a chronically bad back. That likely would trigger a duty to accommodate.

Therefore, if the pregnant employee with the chronically bad back comes to you asking for a new office chair to more comfortably sit and perform her desk job, you’ll likely need to accommodate her.

And while the Pregnancy Discrimination Act itself doesn’t require special treatment for pregnant employee, it does require that employers treat pregnant employees the same as they would treat employees with temporary disabilities. Thus, if an employer offers light duty to an employee who temporarily suffers from a back back, they would have to do the same for a pregnant employee.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.