Does The Pregnancy Discrimination Act Protect Women With Postpartum Depression?
Having litigated pregnancy discrimination cases for more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County know that a common employment law myth is that an employee must be pregnant to be protected from pregnancy discrimination under federal employment discrimination law. In perpetuating this employment law myth, employers routinely argue that pregnancy discrimination cannot as a matter of law occur after a woman gives birth. According to employers, therefore, a woman who is fired after giving birth cannot be as a matter of law a victim of pregnancy discrimination. In this article, our employment discrimination attorneys in Marion County explain how the decision in Dinger v. Bryn Mawr Trust Company, Case No. 19-cv-2324 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 11, 2022) illustrates that the protection from pregnancy discrimination does not end when a woman gives birth.
Pregnant Employees’ Rights
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects women from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Because the PDA’s protection against discrimination covers not only pregnancy, but also childbirth or pregnancy-related medical conditions, it is not necessary for employees to be pregnant when they are subjected to an adverse employment action to be protected from pregnancy discrimination. Because of the PDA’s broad language, courts have ruled that the PDA’s protection from discrimination extends to women while they are pregnant, while they are on maternity leave, when they return to work after giving birth, and when they return to work after taking maternity leave. This means that women who are affected by medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as postpartum depression, are still protected from discrimination by the PDA after giving birth or returning from maternity leave.
Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit
In Dinger, a woman named Dinger brought a pregnancy discrimination claim against her former employer, Bryn Mawr Trust Company (the Bank). Dinger claims, in relevant part, that she was fired because of a pregnancy-related medical condition in violation of the PDA.
Dinger worked in the Trust Operations Department at the Bank. In July 2018, Dinger requested and received 12 weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) following the birth of her child. After she exhausted her FMLA leave, Dinger returned to work 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 PTO day, which Leahy approved. The next day, Dinger’s husband texted Leahy expressing the difficulty Dinger was having “with the transition back to work.” That text message was the first notice the Bank received of Dinger’s problems with returning to work. In late November 2018, an Employee Benefits Specialist emailed Dinger with information about how to apply for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation through Cigna and informed her of the Bank’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides six free counseling sessions to employees.
Fired After Requesting Leave
Following a trip to the emergency room, Dinger was hospitalized from December 2 to December 6, 2018. Dinger was examined by a psychiatrist, Kim. On December 19, 2018, Dinger and Kim returned a form to Cigna requesting an ADA accommodation that included her diagnosis of “postpartum psychosis,” a description of her symptoms, and her requested 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 about her request for leave 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 the March 15, 2019 estimated date supplied by her doctor.” Alternatively, Fryer asked Dinger if she would be willing to ask her doctor if she could resume working earlier than March 15. Fyer explained that the March 15 date “was too uncertain” or “too far out” for the Bank to continue covering Dinger’s position. Because Dinger was not able to commit to a particular return date and was not willing to ask her doctor to clear her to return to work sooner than March 15, Fryer told Dinger that she was being terminated.
PDA Covers Pregnancy-Related Medical Conditions
The Bank filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Dinger’s pregnancy discrimination claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, the Bank argued that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing Dinger—she exhausted her FMLA leave and was unable to provide a specific return date. The trial court denied the Bank’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Dinger was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on her pregnancy discrimination claim.
In denying the Bank’s motion for dismissal, the trial court pointed out that “Dinger first went on leave in November 2018 and her paperwork was submitted by her doctor on December19, 2018, less than one month before her January 16, 2019 termination.” The trial court also noted that “the Bank admits that during the January 16 phone call, Dinger reiterated her need for leave until March and then was terminated.” Based on this evidence, the trial court determined, “the temporal proximity between Dinger’s request for leave for a pregnancy-related illness and her termination” was sufficient to raise an inference that she was fired because of a pregnancy-related medical condition in violation of the PDA. Thus, the trial court concluded that “a reasonable jury could find for Dinger on her pregnancy discrimination claim.”
Marion County, FL Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have been discriminated against because of pregnancy or have questions about your rights as a pregnant employee, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion 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.