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back to index backAMERItalk April,  2005

Employees with the “potential” to become pregnant are protected by the U.S. Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Sixth Circuit recently affirmed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e(k) protects employees if they are treated adversely because of their capacity to become pregnant.

In Kocak v. Community Health Partners of Ohio, Inc. plaintiff Suzanne Kocak was an obstetric nurse who resigned from her position due to pregnancy complications. After the birth of her child, the plaintiff applied for a part-time nurse position with her former employer.  Her co-workers voiced vehement opposition to her rehiring, stating that they found her difficult to work with, unreliable, and not a team worker.  Further, plaintiff claimed that during the re-application process, a personnel manager allegedly asked her whether she was pregnant or intended to have more children.  Also, plaintiff claimed that the personnel manager told her that her former supervisor would not rehire her because of the complications in scheduling caused by her past pregnancy.  The plaintiff was not rehired, and she brought suit under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"), alleging that the failure to hire her was due to pregnancy discrimination.

In refuting plaintiff's claim of pregnancy discrimination, Community Health argued that the plaintiff was not protected by the PDA because she was not pregnant at the time of its decision not to rehire her.  The United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio agreed, and granted summary judgment for Community Health, noting that the plaintiff was not protected by the PDA because she not pregnant at the time of her application, she did not bear any children during the period of her application, and no medical conditions related to pregnancy manifested themselves during the time of her application.  Although the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Community Health, it disagreed with the district court that Kocak was not protected by the PDA.  Rather, the Sixth Circuit noted that the United States Supreme Court has held that the PDA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a woman because of her capacity to become pregnant, and therefore, a plaintiff cannot be refused employment on the basis of her potential pregnancy. 

However, in rejecting plaintiff's claim under the PDA, the Sixth Circuit held that the alleged statements by the personnel manager and plaintiff's former supervisor were not direct evidence of discrimination because they required an inference, rather than a conclusion, that the concern was an anti-pregnancy animus, as opposed to a non-discriminatory animus about past scheduling difficulties.  The comments would not compel a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Community Health failed to rehire Kocak for discriminatory reasons.  Moreover, the court held that Community Health provided undisputed proof that Kocak was unreliable when it came to scheduling, difficult to contact before she became pregnant and avidly disliked by her peers. 

The Sixth Circuit's ruling reinforces the fact that personnel decisions should be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons.  Further, employers should be mindful that it is not only employees who are pregnant that are protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but also those employees who have the potential to become pregnant. 

Source: Butzel Long - GAI
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