District Court Expands Accommodations Protection under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination for Pregnant Employees
Effective January 17, 2014, the New Jersey legislature amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) to include “pregnancy” as a protected characteristic. In addition, the legislature expanded the NJLAD to make reasonable accommodations to a pregnant employee. Among the protections included require an employer to “make available to the employee reasonable accommodation in the workplace, such as bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, for needs related to the pregnancy when the employee, based on the advice of her physician, requests the accommodation, unless the employer can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the business operations of the employer.” See N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(s) (emphasis added).
In Ologundudu v. Manorcare Health Services, Inc., 1:15-cv-04021-NLH-AMD (United States District Court, District of New Jersey, December 18, 2017), the court analyzed a failure to accommodate claim asserted by the plaintiff in the context of a pregnancy discrimination action. In so doing, the court rejected defendant’s argument that employer is obligated to provide accommodations for a pregnant employee only if required to do so by a doctor. Specifically, the court determined that “when the New Jersey legislature amended the NJLAD to add pregnancy as a protected status it recognized that the common side effects of pregnancy include ‘bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest,’ etc., and that those symptoms and common medical conditions have engendered unfair discrimination. Defendant’s interpretation of the statute would require every pregnant woman, whether hale and hearty or not, to anticipate all symptoms that might impact her work no matter how temporary or ultimately tolerable, consult a doctor while asymptomatic, and preemptively seek accommodations before those common side effects manifest themselves at work – or risk, as in this case, being fired for sitting down and resting the first time she felt fatigued or unstable on her feet. This absurd Catch-22 would bar failure to accommodate claims in any case the employer moves swiftly to take an adverse employment action as soon as pregnancy symptoms occur. Such a rule would frustrate the expressed legislative intent, defeat the Act’s remedial purpose and render the obligation to engage in an interactive process a nullity.” See id. at 17, footnote 5.
This decision is a significant victory for pregnant employees in the workplace. The court’s expansive reading of the NJLAD certainly gives pregnant employees further protection under the law. In addition, the decision puts employers on notice as to the potential perils of failing to engage in the interactive process with pregnant employees in the workplace.
If you have any questions about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, please contact the Law Office of Frank A. Custode, LLC.