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How Can the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Help Me If I’ve Suffered Pregnancy Discrimination on the Job?

In 2014, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act became law in New Jersey. That law amended the Law Against Discrimination to go further to combat pregnancy discrimination, and work to eradicate unequal treatment of pregnant women in the workplace (among other places.) The PWFA may be an important aid to you in winning a pregnancy discrimination case. If you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination at work, an experienced New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorney who is well-versed in the PWFA and other pregnancy discrimination laws can help.

One recent pregnancy discrimination case that did involve the PWFA was the lawsuit launched by K.D., a police officer. When K.D. found out she was pregnant with her second child, she promptly notified her supervisors that her doctor had advised that she be taken off patrol.

The police department granted the officer’s request for a light-duty assignment but, in accordance with department policy, K.D. could only begin working her light-duty assignment after she had first used up every single hour of vacation, holiday and personal leave time she had accumulated during her entire time on the force.

The department applied the same rule to non-pregnant officers who suffered injuries. There was, however, one key difference between injured officers and pregnant officers: the policy gave the police chief the option to waive the “use all your paid leave time before starting light-duty work” requirement, but only in situations involving injured officers. The chief had no authority to grant such a waiver to any pregnant officer.

That difference was very important in K.D.’s discrimination lawsuit. The officer’s argument was that, because the policy’s had different standards for who did (and did not) qualify for a possible waiver from the chief, and the rule differentiated between pregnant workers and injured non-pregnant workers, the policy violated the PWFA.

The policy this police department used clearly failed the PWFA’s “unequal treatment” prohibition. According to K.D., the chief had granted waivers to at least one injured (non-pregnant) patrolman and at least one injured (non-pregnant) sergeant. Departmental policy allowed the chief to consider granting a waiver if the injured officer’s prolonged absence from work “would be a detriment to department operations.” By contrast, the chief could not offer waivers to any pregnant officers, “no matter what positions they held,” and no matter what degree of detriment their absences would be to “department operations.”

This was clearly problematic, according to the Appellate Division court. By saying that some (though not all) injured non-pregnant officers qualified for a waiver under certain circumstances, but that no pregnant officer could ever get a waiver under any circumstances, the policy represented unequal treatment based on an officer’s status as a pregnant woman.

Pregnancy discrimination and employers’ failure to accommodate

K.D. also had a potential claim based upon the department’s failure to accommodate. The department defended itself by arguing that it had no legal obligation to provide an accommodation under the PWFA.

The court, in ruling in the officer’s favor, explained that this argument was incorrect. A pregnant employee seeking a light-duty accommodation for all (or perhaps only a fraction) of her pregnancy would inherently be asking for a short-term temporary accommodation. As the court explicitly stated, “a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant employee can include ‘temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.’” So, contrary to what the employer argued, it did have a legal obligation to reasonably accommodate its pregnant officers.

Pregnancy discrimination still remains an unfortunate reality in many workplaces. If you have been the victim of unequal treatment based upon your pregnancy, you may be entitled to a judgment and compensation. The diligent New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Our attorneys have spent many years fighting successfully for the rights of pregnant employees and other discriminated workers, and we’re ready to get to work for you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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