A March 9 opinion handed down by the New Jersey Supreme Court not only benefitted a local police officer, but it was also a huge “plus” for any New Jersey worker who has been harmed at work because she was pregnant. Specifically, the decision firmly established pregnant workers’ right to pursue a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) claim based on “unequal” or “unfavorable” treatment. Now more than ever before, any New Jersey worker who is pregnant and suffers adverse treatment because of that pregnancy should feel empowered and should not hesitate to contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney about taking legal action.
The high court’s ruling was such a resounding victory for the discriminated employee that Anjali Mehrotra, president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey, hailed it as “an affirmation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act” itself, according to the Asbury Park Press.
The case involved a pregnant patrol officer with a township police department who, in late 2014, informed her supervisors that she was pregnant with her second child and that her doctor had advised that she cease patrol work. The employer granted the light-duty accommodation request but, consistent with the department’s “Maternity Standard Operating Procedure,” required the officer to use up all her accumulated paid leave time before starting her light-duty assignment.
The department also happened to have a different Standard Operating Procedure for officers needing a light-duty assignment due to injury. That SOP was largely similar to the Maternity SOP, except that, unlike the Maternity SOP, it contained an exception that allowed the Chief of Police to waive the requirement related to using up leave time. According to the pregnant officer, the chief had granted such waivers to injured officers on multiple occasions.
The pregnant officer sued and scored a victory in the Appellate Division court in early 2020. The Supreme Court, however, went even further in favor of the officer. The high court agreed with the Appellate Division that the PWFA gives discriminated workers three avenues for asserting a claim for damages under the law, which include unequal/unfavorable treatment, failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, and punishing a pregnant worker for requesting an accommodation.
The Differences in the Employer’s Rules Were Facially Discriminatory
The case of this pregnant patrol officer was an obvious instance of the first of those three, according to the Supreme Court. The Maternity SOP was per se discriminatory on its face because it clearly treated pregnant workers who needed a light-duty assignment accommodation differently than non-pregnant workers who had a similar inability to perform regular-duty work. That blatant difference was the presence of the waiver provision in the Light Duty SOP and the absence of a similar provision in the Maternity SOP.
However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Division court on sending the case back for a full trial. The Supreme Court concluded that the violation of the PWFA in this circumstance was so clear and obvious that the only things that a jury needed to decide were whether the department’s discrimination caused harm and what amount of damages the pregnant officer was owed.
If your employer treated you unfavorably because you were pregnant or because you asked for a pregnancy-related accommodation, you may be entitled to sue and recover substantial compensation. Talk to the experienced pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to get the helpful information and reliable advice you need. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.