No, no, no: There’s no workaround that lets you fire pregnant employees because you only accommodate restrictions from incidents that are “work-related.”
Jennifer Latowski worked as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home and had passed four essential functions tests throughout her 18 months on the job.
Then she became pregnant. The company requested that Latowski get a doctor’s note stating that she had no work restrictions per the firm’s policy that employees get a note whenever the company learned of “anything medical.”
Her doctor eventually faxed her a note saying the only work restriction she had was that she couldn’t lift anything over 50 pounds.
The director of the nursing home then told Latowski that she couldn’t work there because the company would only accommodate restrictions resulting from work-related incidents. The reason: The firm could be “liable if something happened to [Latowski’s] baby.”
The director informed Latowski that she could continue working if her doctor lifted the restrictions and encouraged her to speak to her doctor or seek a second opinion.
When Latowski attempted to report for her scheduled shift on the evening of October 2, the on-duty nurse informed Latowski that she had “resigned” and escorted her off the premises.
On October 15, a company rep contacted Latowski to explain FMLA eligibility. Latowski informed the rep that she didn’t want to use her FMLA leave during her second trimester because she’d still be pregnant when her FMLA eligibility expired.
An administrator at the nursing home then accepted Latowski’s “resignation” as of October 17 in a letter explaining that the nursing home would “not accommodate a non-work related restriction.”
Policy is ‘so lacking in merit’
Not surprisingly, Lawtowski went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued for pregnancy bias on her behalf.
The court had no trouble concluding that a reasonable jury could easily find that Latowski was a victim of pregnancy discrimination.
The court said that the company’s decision to:
implement a policy terminating otherwise qualified workers whose doctors imposed any restrictions arising from non-workplace injuries, even if those restrictions do not limit the employees’ ability to competently perform their jobs — is so lacking in merit as to be a pretext for discrimination.
Train, train, train
This case highlights the importance of having counsel review workplace policies regarding leaves of absence, accommodations, and light duty, as well as training managers on their obligations under the state and federal employment laws.
The case is Latowski v. Northwoods Nursing Center.