Posted on March 28, 2013 Issues: Pregnancy, Parenting & the Workplace Workplace

(Washington, D.C.)  Today, the National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Amy Crosby, a 30 year-old pregnant hospital cleaner in Tallahassee, Florida who was forced to take unpaid leave when her employer, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, refused to accommodate her doctor’s request that she not lift more than 20 pounds because of her pregnancy.  Crosby was 23 weeks pregnant at the time and suffered from carpal-tunnel syndrome, a condition that worsened during her pregnancy and also limited her ability to lift.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers like Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to make accommodations for pregnant workers when they make accommodations for workers with similar limitations.

Other co-workers on the cleaning staff at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital were granted similar requests and transferred to lighter duty when they had temporary physical disabilities or on-the-job injuries.  Crosby’s supervisor told her that the hospital does not make accommodations for its pregnant workers.  Despite her overall good health and desire to continue working, Crosby was sent home on unpaid leave the same day she made her request.  She has been informed that she will be terminated if she does not return to work by April 11, though the hospital continues to refuse to accommodate her lifting restriction.   

“I had been working as a cleaner for almost a year when I was forced onto unpaid leave,” said Amy Crosby, the hospital worker at the center of the EEOC complaint.  “I often lifted 25-50 pounds of linen and trash.  I was a hard worker. When I asked whether I could avoid lifting heavy items for a few months based on my OB-GYN’s advice, I was able to do all the other parts of my job.  But I was simply told to pack up my things and go home.  My fiancé and I are struggling to make ends meet as we prepare for our baby’s birth in May.  I’ve lost over two months of salary that we both counted on, I’ve used up valuable leave time that I had hoped to use after the baby was born, and now I am worried I am about to lose my job.”

 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employers must treat pregnant workers as well as they treat other workers “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  This means that pregnant workers who are limited in their ability to do their job because of their pregnancy cannot be treated worse than non-pregnant workers with temporary disabilities or other similar physical limitations.  The Americans With Disabilities Act, as amended in 2008, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a broad range of temporary disabilities, including, for example, a back injury that prevents an employee from lifting 20 pounds for a few months.  Because pregnant employees must be treated just as well as others with similar limitations, pregnant workers with lifting restrictions must also be provided reasonable accommodations when an employer can make the adjustments without undue hardship.

“Amy Crosby’s situation is not an anomaly,” said Emily Martin, NWLC Vice President and General Counsel.  “This complaint is a reminder that some pregnant women across the country–especially those working in low-wage jobs—face discrimination on the job when they need a small adjustment or accommodation that would allow them to keep working.  Like Amy, they’re forced out on unpaid leave or simply fired, at the very moment they’re counting on their income and job security—when their families are growing.”