Legal Briefing: Pounds Foolish on Pregnancy Discrimination

By Mark Kobata

Mar. 13, 2014

Jennifer Latowski was a certified nursing assistant for Northwoods Nursing Center for a year when she informed her supervisors in September 2008 that she was pregnant. When Latowski was asked to provide a doctor’s note asking about any work restrictions, her doctor’s note stated “only restriction lifting over 50 pounds.” In response, Northwoods told her she could no longer work because Northwoods only accommodated employee restrictions resulting from work-related incidents. Latowski sued Northwoods in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which granted summary judgment to Northwoods because Latowski was not “qualified” under the employer’s “pregnancy-blind policy.”

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed the decision, holding that “a reasonable jury could conclude that Northwoods’ business decision — to implement a policy terminating otherwise qualified workers whose doctors impose any restrictions arising from nonworkplace injuries, even if those restrictions do not limit the employees’ ability to competently perform their jobs — is so lacking in merit as to be a pretext for discrimination.” The 6th Circuit remanded the case for trial. Latowski v. Northwoods Nursing Ctr., 2013 BL 352840, 6th Cir., No. 12-2408(Dec. 23, 2013).

Impact: A strict “no-restrictions” policy may provide a basis for pregnancy discrimination, if the employee is not limited from performing her job.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. To comment, email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Mark Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago.

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