Pregnancies are marvels of Mother Nature. It’s amazing how just a few seemingly simple cells can turn into the biological machine we call a human being. Given the complexity of the gestation process, it’s not surprising that pregnancy complications can occur.
However, understanding that so many things could go wrong during a pregnancy doesn’t make dealing with the complications any easier to handle, either emotionally or professionally. While laws are in place to help protect employees who are expecting, employers don’t always comply with those laws. A recently initiated lawsuit against the Kroger Company deals with this type of situation.
Jessica Craddock v. The Kroger Company
Jessica Craddock worked in the deli department at Kroger. As a part of her job duties, Craddock was expected to lift heavy boxes. After working for Kroger for about two years, Craddock became pregnant.
Craddock’s pregnancy started off just fine. But several months into the pregnancy, Craddock’s unborn child shifted and dropped onto Craddock’s cervix, substantially increasing the risk of pre-term labor. After seeing a doctor, Craddock returned to work, but with the condition that she would avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds.
Initially, Kroger accommodated Craddock’s lifting restriction. But after Craddock returned from the doctor following additional pregnancy complications, Kroger refused to accommodate Craddock and told her not to return until she could work without any restrictions. Kroger claimed providing Craddock with such an accommodation was against store policy, even though it had accommodated another employee with a lifting restriction as a result of a shoulder injury.
Craddock was able to return to work about seven weeks later, but only after Kroger stated that a mistake had been made and Craddock would be able to continue working with the lifting accommodation.
Craddock filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). After its investigation, the EEOC concluded that “reasonable cause” existed to support Craddock’s pregnancy discrimination allegations.
Even though Kroger eventually accommodated Craddock and allowed her to work as a cashier, Kroger did not change its pregnancy accommodation policy. This meant that if there were other employees in a situation similar to Craddock’s, they could suffer from the same discrimination. Therefore, Craddock sued Kroger on behalf of herself and others to force Kroger to alter its accommodation policies for pregnant employees.
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on a disability. With normal pregnancies, the ADA doesn’t apply. But if there are complications, the EEOC and courts have concluded that those complications can constitute a disability under the ADA.
Under the ADA, a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
If a pregnant employee is otherwise able to perform the necessary tasks of her job, she is considered a qualified individual, and her employer needs to provide reasonable accommodations for her disability.
In the case of Craddock, all she needed was Kroger to allow her not to lift anything more than 10 pounds. This was an accommodation that Kroger could easily provide; remember, Kroger allowed another employee with a shoulder injury to have a similar lifting restriction while he stocked shelves.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Young v. UPS requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees unless they have a really good reason not to.
Based on the facts in Craddock’s case, it would be hard for Kroger to argue that it had a good reason not to reasonably accommodate Craddock or any other potential employees based on the ease with which Kroger accommodated the employee with a shoulder injury and later allowed Craddock to return to work as a cashier.
To learn more about how the ADA and PDA affect women with pregnancy complications, you can take a look at the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance: Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues and our earlier blog post “How the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans With Disabilities Act Interact and Affect Pregnant Employees.”
Summing It Up
- The ADA will only protect pregnant employees from disability discrimination if there are pregnancy complications; a normal pregnancy will not be considered a disability.
- The PDA will protect a pregnant employee from discrimination based on her pregnancy even if there are no complications.
- The PDA requires employers to reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee who suffers from complications unless the employer has a very good reason not to do so.