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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Can Pregnant Employees Be Forced To Take Unpaid Leave When They Can Do The Job?

Against the background of the flag of the USA lies a notebook with the inscription - PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION ACT

For more than twenty years, our Marion County, Florida pregnancy discrimination attorneys have litigated cases in Florida courts against employers who have discriminated against employees on the basis of pregnancy. Through their decades of experience representing pregnancy discrimination victims, our Ocala, Florida pregnancy discrimination lawyers know that many employers place pregnant employees on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence despite their ability to continue working. In this article, our Marion County, Florida pregnancy discrimination attorneys explain how the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Tolefree v. Swift Transportation Co. Inc., Case No. 19-693 (E.D. Cal. May 26, 2021) demonstrates that employers are forbidden by federal employment discrimination law from placing pregnant employees on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence when they are able to perform their job.

Pregnant Employees Must Be Allowed To Work

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Under the PDA, as the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, 499 U.S. 187 (1991), “[p]regnant women who are able to work must be permitted to work on the same conditions as other employees.” Thus, the Johnson Controls Court explained, the PDA prohibits employers from “forc[ing] women who are able to work to stop working regardless of their ability to continue.” Rather, as the Johnson Controls Court observed, “the decision . . . to work while being [ ] pregnant . . . [is] reserved for each individual woman to make herself.”

Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit

In Tolefree, a female worker named Tolefree brought a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Swift Transportation Company, Inc. (Swift). Tolefree claims that Swift discriminated against her on the basis of pregnancy by placing her on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence, despite the fact that she was capable of doing her job.

Tolefree worked for Swift as a truck driver. Tolefree claims that her job “required very little physical activity,” and she was “never required to push, pull, carry, or lift anything.” When she was about three months pregnant, Tolefree gave Swift a note from her doctor confirming her pregnancy and estimating when she would deliver. She continued to work without problems for about two more weeks, then sent in another doctor’s note that imposed a restriction of no lifting or pulling more than 20 pounds.

A few minutes after she gave her supervisor the second note, Tolefree got a call from a manager who told her to turn her keys in immediately and not work again until she was “one hundred percent.” The manager did not ask whether she could continue working safely and discussed no accommodations that might permit her to keep working. Tolefree understood this to mean that she could not drive while she was pregnant—no exceptions. She asked another supervisor if this was correct; she was told it was.

Pregnant Worker Put On Involuntary Leave

For the next week, Tolefree tried unsuccessfully to contact Swift’s human resources department. She eventually reached someone and explained that she could and wanted to continue driving while she was pregnant. Swift’s records show, however, that it placed Tolefree on “medical hold” the same day it received the second’s doctor’s note. As a result, Tolefree could not drive and would receive no pay. Ultimately, Swift informed Tolefree that she would be on unpaid leave until six weeks after her due date. Swift would not reassign her or create light duty assignments. Due to being placed on an involuntary leave of absence without pay, Tolefree applied for open positions with Swift, but received no response. Because of her intolerable working conditions, Tolefree felt that she had no choice but to quit.

Evidence Of Pregnancy Discrimination

Swift filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Tolefree’s pregnancy discrimination claim. Swift argued that Tolefree was not placed on a months-long unpaid leave of absence because of her pregnancy but because Tolefree could not do her job. In denying Swift’s motion for dismissal, the trial court noted that the crux’s of Tolefree’s pregnancy discrimination claim was that Swift placed her on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence even though “she was still capable of performing the tasks required of her position as a truck driver with only minor accommodations if any.”

Under pregnancy discrimination law, the trial court explained, Swift could not force Tolefree to stop working regardless of her ability to continue by placing her on a months-long unpaid leave of absence. In placing Tolefree on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence based on a doctor’s note with a 20-pound lifting and pulling restriction even though Tolefree maintained that “her job did not actually require heavy lifting, pulling, or exertion,” the trial court found that the evidence “suggests that her pregnancy was the reason for [Swift’s] decision, not her ability to do the job.” Because she had produced evidence that Swift forced her to stop working despite her ability to continue working as a truck driver, the trial court concluded, Tolefree was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on the issue of whether Swift unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of pregnancy.

Free Consultation For Discrimination Victims

One of the most important decisions pregnancy discrimination victims must make is deciding which employment lawyers to consult with regarding their legal rights. At our employment law firm, an experienced employment attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations and you will never have to pay to speak with our employment lawyers regarding your workplace issues.

Marion County, FL Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida pregnancy discrimination attorneys have fought for the rights of pregnancy discrimination victims for more than twenty years. If you have been placed on an involuntary unpaid leave of absence while pregnant or have questions about your right to continue working while pregnant, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida pregnancy discrimination lawyers.

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