Are Women Entitled To A Leave Of Absence As An ADA Accommodation After Giving Birth?
For more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County have fought for the rights of employment discrimination victims. Through their decades of experience representing employment discrimination victims, our employment discrimination attorneys in Inverness, Florida know that women often experience pregnancy-related medical conditions after giving birth that necessitate a leave of absence from work. In this article, our employment discrimination attorneys in Citrus County explain how the decision in Dinger v. Bryn Mawr Trust Company, Case No. 19-cv-2324 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 11, 2022) demonstrates that when women are unable to work after giving birth because of pregnancy-related medical conditions, they may be entitled to a leave of absence from work as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Pregnancy As A Disability
Generally, pregnancy is not considered a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Although pregnancy, standing alone, generally does not constitute a disability under the ADA, certain pregnancy-related medical conditions may qualify as a disability for purposes of the ADA. For example, pregnancy-related medical conditions such as a high-risk pregnancy or postpartum depression may constitute a physical or mental impairment and, thus, fall within the ADA’s definition of a disability.
Under the ADA, employees who have a disability within the meaning of the ADA are entitled to a reasonable accommodation. The purpose of the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement is provide disabled employees with an accommodation that will enable them to perform the essential functions of their job. Courts have determined that a leave of absence for medical treatment and recovery constitutes a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. As explained by the court in Gardner v. Sch. Dist. Of Phila., 636 Fed. Appx. 79 (3d Cir. 2015), however, the leave of absence must “enable the employee to perform his essential job functions in the near future.” In other words, a long-term or indefinite leave of absence generally is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. When an employer fails to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability, the employer has discriminated against the employee on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA.
Right To Leave Of Absence After Giving Birth
When an employee’s pregnancy-related medical conditions constitute a disability within the meaning of the ADA, the employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Thus, an employee who experiences postpartum depression after giving birth may be eligible for a leave of absence under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation. In the context of pregnancy-related medical conditions an employee experiences after giving birth, the purpose of the leave of absence is to provide the employee with the time necessary for medical treatment and recovery so the employee can return to work and performed the essential functions of her job in the near future.
If the leave of absence from work renders the employee able to return to work and perform her job duties in the near future, then a leave of absence is generally a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and the employer is required by the ADA to grant the leave of absence. Correlatively, if the leave of absence is long-term or indefinite, then the leave of absence generally is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and the employer is not required by the ADA to grant the leave of absence. In other words, each case is unique and whether a leave of absence constitutes a reasonable accommodation under the ADA depends on the particular facts.
Employment Discrimination Lawsuit
In Dinger, a woman named Dinger brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Bryn Mawr Trust Company (the Bank). Dinger claims, in relevant part, that she was fired because of her disability within the meaning of the ADA.
Dinger worked in the Trust Operations Department at the Bank. Her job duties included generating “reports of daily transactions with the wealth management division [and] analyzing business transactions.” In July 2018, Dinger requested and received 12 weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after the birth of her child. After exhausting her FMLA leave, Dinger returned to the workplace in October 2018. Dinger worked for about six weeks until she developed postpartum psychosis in November 2018. Dinger’s symptoms included paranoia, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
On November 27, 2018, Dinger sent her supervisor, Leahy, a test message asking to take a paid day off from work, which Leahy approved. The following day, Dinger’s husband sent Leahy a text message which explained the difficulty Dinger was having “with the transition back to work.” The text message from Dinger’s husband was the first time the Bank received information regarding Dinger’s problems with returning to work. In late November 2018, an Employee Benefits Specialist sent Dinger an email which contained information regarding how to apply for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation through Cigna.
Employee Requests Leave Of Absence
Dinger was hospitalized from December 2 to December 6, 2018. During her hospitalization, Dinger was evaluated by a psychiatrist, Dr. Kim. On December 19, 2018, Dinger and Dr. Kim returned a form to Cigna requesting an accommodation under the ADA that included her diagnosis of “postpartum psychosis,” a description of her symptoms, and her requested ADA accommodation—a period of leave that was “expected” to end on March 15, 2019.
On January 16, 2019, the Vice President of Human Resources, Fyer, spoke with Dinger over the phone regarding her request for a leave of absence until March 15, 2019. Fryer “asked Dinger if she could commit to returning to work at [the Bank] on a particular date, even if that date was March 15, 2019, the estimated date supplied by her doctor.” Alternatively, Fryer asked Dinger if she would be willing to ask her doctor if she could return to work before March 15, 2019. Fyer stated that the March 15, 2019 date “was too uncertain” or “too far out” for the Bank to continue covering Dinger’s position. Because Dinger could not commit to a specific return date and was unwilling to ask her doctor to authorize her to return to work before March 15, 2019, Fryer told Dinger that she was being terminated.
Dinger claims that her postpartum psychosis constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA. As a disability, Dinger maintains that she was entitled to a leave of absence from work as a reasonable accommodation. Instead of providing her with a reasonable accommodation, Dinger maintains, the Bank terminated her employment in violation of the ADA.
Leave Of Absence Is Reasonable Accommodation
The Bank filed a motion with the trial court seeking the dismissal of Dinger’s disability discrimination claim. In seeking dismissal, the Bank maintained that Dinger’s “requested leave of absence was indefinite and there was not a reasonable accommodation as a matter of law.” The Bank’s argument was based on two facts: first, that Dinger’s doctor wrote “expected” in the paperwork she submitted to Cigna next to the March 15, 2019 return date; and second, during the January 16, 2019 phone call that ended in her termination, Dinger expressed reservations about whether she was able to return to work on March 15, 2019. The trial court denied the Bank’s motion for dismissal and concluded that Dinger had presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that she was discriminated against on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA.
Noting that the “parties do not dispute whether Dinger had a disability when she requested a leave of absence,” the trial court explained that the “dispositive question” was whether Dinger’s request for a leave of absence from work because of her postpartum psychosis was a request for an “indefinite and open-ended” leave of absence, “or temporary and capable or rendering Dinger able to perform the essential functions of her job in the near future.” In other words, if Dinger’s request was for a temporary leave of absence that would enable her to perform her job in the near future, then then the leave of absence was a reasonable accommodation and a reasonable accommodation that the Bank was obligated to provide under the ADA.
In resolving this issue, the trial court determined that a jury could conclude that “Dinger’s requested period of leave was not indefinite.” The trial court reasoned that a “reasonable jury could find that Dr. Kim wrote ‘expected’ next to the March 15 date, not to suggest Dinger required an indefinite leave of absence, but rather as a good faith attempt to be as transparent as possible about Dinger’s recovery from a severe illness, which required hospitalization mere days before submission of the form.” The trial court also pointed out that “Dr. Kim appears to have been correct about Dinger’s recovery timeline, as Dinger stated [in her deposition] that she felt ready to return to full-time employment in March .”
Citrus County, FL Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have represented employment discrimination victims for more than twenty years. If you have questions about your right to a leave of absence because of pregnancy-related medical conditions or your rights as a pregnant employee under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.