On January 30, 2014, New York City entered a new phase of combatting pregnancy discrimination in the workplace with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act finally going into effect. The law will now require employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers, similar to the reasonable accommodation that is required to be provided for disabled employees under the New York City Human Right Law. This law passed with little fanfare, as most believed something like this was already on the books, but in reality was not. Prior to the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, pregnancy was not considered a disability, rather, it was held to be short-term disability that did not require an employer to make any adjustments, which could range from allowing for water breaks, providing for a more comfortable chair, or simply allowing a pregnant employee to see a doctor.
The New York Times recently published an article where Floralba Fernandez Espinal, a clerk at a national chain thrift shop, was three months pregnant and was worried about losing her child from being overstressed at work. She was told by her employer to bring in a doctor’s note stating she was seeking some type of accommodation. The letter from her doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital was clear: “No lifting, pushing or carrying heavy objects or loads.” Despite doing what her manager had asked of her, Ms. Fernandez was placed on unpaid leave because according to her employer, she could no longer do her job. Ms. Fernandez, fearing something was askew, decided to record the conversation she had with her manger, where she had stated that all she was restricted from doing was heavy lifting, but she could perform other tasks around the store. Her proclamation made no difference and was still asked to leave. Ms. Fernandez smartly lawyered up and is now seeking back pay and reinstatement from her former employer.
Ms. Fernandez’ situation will now be treated in a starkly different fashion because the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act is in effect. Prior to the law’s passage, Ms. Fernandez’ condition would not have required the company to accommodate and she would have no actionable rights. However, it will be interesting to see if the claim does segue into the realm of litigation, and how the Courts will treat this case since Ms. Fernandez was put on unpaid leave before the January 30, 2014 effect date of the law. We will keep you apprised of any developments in this case and with the roll out of the law.
As always, if you believe you or your family member was and/or has been discriminated against in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact the pregnancy discrimination attorneys of Risman & Risman, P.C. at (212) 233-6400 or contact us online.