Asia Myers’ story is all too common. After suffering a threatened miscarriage, Asia brought her employer a doctor’s note with a lifting and pushing restriction. If Asia had been injured at her job, as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Hope Healthcare Center in Michigan, or if she had a medical condition other than pregnancy, this would have been no problem. With a doctor’s note, these other categories of employees were routinely given light duty assignments such as hair and nail care for residents, shaving residents, paperwork, feeding residents, and performing showering tasks that don’t require lifting.
But Asia was pregnant and Hope Healthcare Center maintains a discriminatory policy that denies pregnant employees reasonable accommodations that it permits for non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions. So when Asia asked for light duty, she was refused. Hope Healthcare Center forced Asia to choose between a steady paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. When she chose her pregnancy she was required to take unpaid leave. She lost her health benefits and struggled to make ends meet at a time when she most needed healthcare and a steady paycheck.
Luckily, the National Women’s Law Center helped connect Asia with the ACLU, and last week, the ACLU filed a complaint in federal district court in Michigan on Asia’s behalf.
This should not have happened to Asia. Her employer’s actions violated both federal law and Michigan law. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII, employers are required to treat pregnant workers with restrictions the same as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Michigan law is even more clear, requiring employers to treat pregnant employees the same as employees “not so affected but similar in ability or inability to work, without regard to the source of any condition affecting the other individual’s ability or inability to work.”
It’s no accident that Michigan law adds that extra language about the source of the condition. Back in 2009, that language was added in order to make unmistakably clear that the law provided a solution to the problem that Asia faced—an employer that accommodates other medical conditions, including on-the-job injuries, but protest that such accommodations are impossible when employees need them because of pregnancy. How do we know? One of us helped draft that bill—and frankly, coming up with clarifying language was hard, since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act provision that Michigan law previously echoed seems pretty clear itself. Employers have to treat pregnant workers as well as they treat those similar in ability or inability to work. If her employer had taken that requirement seriously, it would have made all the difference for Asia Myers.