Employee Terminated After Requesting Extended Leave Has Retaliation, Pregnancy, Sex & Disability Discrimination Claims

Employees who experience complications during pregnancy that require leave from work prior to the birth of a child may confront a situation where the employee has exhausted her right to Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), which is limited to 12 weeks furring any rolling 52-week period before the employee is medically cleared to return to work following the birth of a child. Depending on the facts, there may still be protection for employees who are terminated prior to their return to work under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which is part of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act which forbid sex discrimination, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as these laws may protect an employee’s right to be granted extended leave from work.

In Oliver v. Scranton Materials, Inc., M. D. Pa. no. 14-cv-00549 (June 14, 2016. Mariani, J.), the Court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed to trial in a situation where the employee was notified following a period of maternity/disability leave that she would be permanently laid off. The employee alleged that she was discriminated on the basis of gender, pregnancy, and disability and that she suffered retaliation at the workplace. In Oliver, the employee claimed that she was subjected to a hostile and discriminatory work environment on the basis of sex and pregnancy, the employer retaliated against her by cutting her out of meetings, complaining of her need for pregnancy related leave, and asking her to accept a salary reduction due to her pregnancy and need for leave; retaliated against her based on her disability (complications with her pregnancy); and failed to accommodate her need for disability leave arising from the complications of pregnancy; and refused to allow her to return to work.

In Oliver, the employee worked in a sales capacity for the employer, a company that produced and sold decorative landscape stone and building stone for wholesale delivery. The employee became pregnant with triplets and experienced complications that required her to begin working half-days. Shortly thereafter, the employee began having problems with a part owner of the company who was her supervisor, who at one point said, “you’re not going to be able to work with those three f-ing babies at home.” The employee continued to receive her full salary for working half days until she went out on maternity disability leave. Six days after the employee had the triplets, her FMLA expired as she had used FMLA leave prior to the birth of her children as a consequence of her ability to work only half-days. The employee intended to return to work 8 weeks after the birth of her children but then requested an additional four weeks leave due to complications related to her pregnancy and associated surgery. Two days after her request, the employee was advised that her employment would be terminated. According to the employer, the employee was terminated in anticipation of the finalization of the sale of its business as well as the overall lack of business during the winter months, however, the employee disputed that there was a sale of the business and claimed the evidence showed that the business continued and did not cease operations.

Title VII provides that it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s… sex which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. To establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, an employee must establish that: (1) the employer knew of her pregnancy; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) there is a causal nexus between her pregnancy and the adverse employment action. Once the employee presents sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate some “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse employment action. Then the burden shifts back to the employee to set forth facts tending to show that the employers proffered legitimate non-discriminatory reason was merely a pretext for discrimination by pointing to some evidence from which a fact-finder could reasonably (1) disbelieve the employer’s articulated reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

In Oliver, the court found that the employee established a prima facie case because the supervisor made repeated comments to her concerning her pregnancy, prior to her pregnancy after the need to reduce her workload to half days and that the employer’s negative statements constitute sufficient evidence of discriminatory animus sufficient to established prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination. The court also found that the employer offered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason, the sale of the business, however, the Court found that there was sufficient evidence of pretext by showing that according to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s Website, the employer did not in fact cease operations through a sale of the company’s business, rather, the employer merely changed its name and it continued to operate at the same location with the same telephone and fax numbers and website; and that there were jobs that the employee could have performed. The court also held that the conduct at issue could be found to be sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment relying on statements regarding the employee’s inability to work with three small babies at home and by looking at the totality of the circumstances.

Under the ADA, an employer may not discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. To state a prima facie claim of disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must establish that she: (1) has a disability, (2) is a qualified individual, and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability. The ADA also provides for a retaliation action as an employer cannot discriminate against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by the ADA and it shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with an individual in the exercise or enjoyment… of any right granted or protected” by the ADA. To establish a prima facie case of ADA retaliation… a plaintiff must show that: (1) she undertook some protected activity, (2) that she suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) that there exists a causal connection between the two.

In Oliver, the Court found that, drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the employee, a jury could conclude that the employee was disabled within the meaning of the ADA due to complications related to her pregnancy and that there was sufficient evidence from which a rationale factfinder could conclude that there was a causal connection between Plaintiff’s disability and her termination.

For more information on pregnancy discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Disability Discrimination, and Abramson Employment Law, see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126517.html, http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.

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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, FMLA, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation, Sex / Gender Discrimination

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