From the time I started working as a teenager, I’ve always been a hard worker. As a cleaner at a hospital in Florida, I clean 20 to 30 hospital rooms during a shift and lift up to 50 pounds of trash and linens every day. After I became pregnant, I started feeling intense shooting pains up my back and arms due to carpal tunnel syndrome that my pregnancy had made worse. One day, after I finished making up a bed in one of the hospital rooms, I sat down to take a break. That’s when a doctor on staff spotted me and called my boss, who told me to bring in a note from my health care provider outlining any pregnancy-related restrictions.
The next day I mentioned the intense pain to my OB-GYN during a routine visit. She gave me a note stating that I was not to lift more than 20 pounds. When I gave the note to my supervisor, he told me that the hospital only accommodated workers who were injured on the job. The hospital later acknowledged that it also accommodated people with disabilities. But the hospital refused to make any accommodations for my pregnancy or my carpal tunnel syndrome.
Because of my lifting restriction, the hospital placed me on 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, which would run out a month and a half before my due date. The hospital told me I would not be permitted to return to work until I had no restrictions and that it would consider me to have “voluntarily resigned” if I failed to return to work without restrictions the day after my 12 weeks of leave expired, in the middle of my last trimester. Despite the hospital’s insistence that I could not return to work if I had any restrictions, I knew that the hospital had accommodated other co-workers with limitations. For example, at least three other women who were cleaners in my department were accommodated: one had a leg injury and was allowed to fold clothes in the laundry, a second had an arm injury and was permitted to perform clerical work, and a third, who was not strong enough to lift mats, had the hospital send co-workers to help her. It didn’t seem right that the hospital was accommodating these other people, but wouldn’t accommodate me simply because I was pregnant.
I found an attorney to help me try to get back to work. My attorney tried to get the hospital to agree to provide an accommodation to me, but the hospital refused. With my attorney’s help, I filed an EEOC charge that stated that by refusing to make any accommodation, the hospital was discriminating against me on the basis of my pregnancy and my disability of pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome. Soon after filing the charge, I was able to reach an amicable resolution with my employer through a confidential settlement agreement, which will allow me to return to work.
Amy Crosby gave birth to a healthy baby boy in May of 2013. She is currently taking care of her newborn and looking forward to returning to her job later this year.
It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, a report from A Better Balance and the National Women’s Law Center, features this and other stories of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Click here to read the other stories and learn more.