Gary Phelan: Pregnancy-Related Conditions May Be Covered By ADA
Normal pregnancies are not considered a "disability" under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 However, pregnancy may also cause a woman to suffer from an assortment of conditions, such as morning sickness, back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, severe fatigue, conditions that lead to lifting restrictions, gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia and prenatal depression.
If pregnancy-related conditions meet the ADA's definition of "disability," they may need to be accommodated by employers. (42 U.S.C. §12112(b)(5)(A)).The accommodations which arise most often are leave of absence, part-time or modified schedules, working from home, job restructuring, "light duty" and reassignment.
A plaintiff seeking to prevail on a failure to accommodate claim must show that (1) she was an individual with a "disability" as defined by the ADA; (2) her employer had notice of her disability; (3) she could perform her job's essential functions with reasonable accommodation; and (4) her employer refused to provide a reasonable accommodation. Litigation in such cases focuses almost exclusively on whether the plaintiff's condition meets the definition of "disability."
Before the ADA Amendments Act of 2009 (ADAAA), plaintiffs seldom prevailed because they could not show that their conditions met the ADA's stringent definition of "disability" for three primary reasons.
First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and courts held that only permanent or long-term impairments could be substantially limiting. Therefore pregnancy-related conditions were considered too short in duration to qualify as "disabilities." For example, in Villareal v. JE Merit Contractors, 895 F.Supp. 194 (S.D. Tex. 1995) the district court held that pregnancy and related medical conditions are temporary and, therefore, not usually disabilities.
Second, before the ADAAA, pregnancy-related conditions were often found not to be severe enough to "substantially limit" a "major life activity." In Jevdy v. Holder, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS (S.D. Fla. 2011), the district court held that a probationary corrections officer who had severe morning sickness and severe pelvic pain due to fibroids in her uterus while pregnant failed to show that those conditions substantially limited her ability to walk or stand.
Third, under the "normal pregnancy doctrine," courts routinely held that, because pregnancy is not a disorder, pregnancy-related conditions are only covered under the ADA in extremely rare circumstances. For example, in Gorman v. Wells Mfg. Co., 209 F.Supp. 2d 970 (S.D. Iowa 2002), the district court held that nausea, vomiting, dizziness, severe headaches and fatigue were not disabilities because it was "common knowledge that all of these symptoms, at some degree of severity, are part and parcel of a normal pregnancy."
Due to the ADAAA's broadened definition of "disability," many pregnancy-related conditions may now be considered an "actual disability" under the ADA's three-prong definition. The ADA defines disability as (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) a record of such an impairment, or (3) being "regarded as" having such an impairment. (42 U.S.C. §12102(2)). Several critical changes made to the definition of disability have removed the barriers which led courts to routinely hold that pregnancy-related conditions were not disabilities.
Under the ADAAA, the short duration of an impairment no longer precludes the impairment from being considered a disability. The EEOC's regulations under the ADAAA provide that the "effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can still be considered substantially limiting."
In Nayak v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center Inc., 2013 WL 12183 (S.D. Ind. 2013), for example, the court relied on the EEOC's Regulations to deny the employer's motion to dismiss where the plaintiff suffered from pregnancy-related conditions which lasted about eight months, including beyond her pregnancy. In Mayorga v. Alorica, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103766 (S.D. Fla. 2012), the court similarly relied upon the EEOC's regulations and rejected the employer's argument that the plaintiff's pregnancy-related conditions were too short in duration to be considered a disability.