Hicks v. Tuscaloosa

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was put in place to prevent discrimination against a woman for being pregnant. The PDA states that there can be no discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Related medical conditions are used as an overreaching term and therefore includes the issues that come with breastfeeding, as it is intrinsically intertwined with pregnancy. Stephanie Hicks, the plaintiff in Hicks v. Tuscaloosa case, was denied accommodations because of her pregnancy-related medical condition and ultimately resigned from her position.

On September 7, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit held that breastfeeding is a covered protection under the PDA. Officer Hicks, upon return from her maternity leave, requested that she be assigned an alternative duty. Before her maternity leave, Officer Hicks’ supervisor allowed her to work different cases so that she would not have to work nights and weekends. This accommodation infuriated some other supervisors and, upon Officer Hicks’ return, she received multiple disciplinary write-ups accusing her of false infractions.

Officer Hicks also had heard that people were complaining that she took 12 weeks under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which she was entitled to, when she was asked to only take 6 weeks of maternity leave. Officer Hicks also stated that colleagues had told her that her new supervisor was trying to “get [Hicks] out of here.” Colleagues and officers also claimed that Officer Hicks was not acting as herself and seemed changed after the birth of her baby. They claimed that she had the “baby blues” and seemed to believe that telling her this to her face made it alright.

Soon after her return, a mere eight days, Officer Hicks was placed on patrol division where she was required to wear a bulletproof vest all day. Her doctor had advised her to request a different position because wearing the vest all day could interfere with her breastfeeding, as well as possibly causing painful infections. For these reasons, Officer Hicks requested a desk assignment, instead of being in the patrol division. Her request was denied, even though other officers were often provided this accommodation for other medical conditions. The supervisors claimed that breastfeeding could not warrant special accommodation as it was not a medical condition. They further advised her that if she thought the tight-fitting vest would interfere negatively with her breastfeeding, she could wear a larger vest. Officer Hicks refused to do so as she believed wearing a larger vest with less protection could be dangerous to her life.

A jury held that Officer Hicks had been discriminated against under the PDA and that the supervisors were retaliating against her for taking FMLA leave. The Court ruled in the favor of Officer Hicks on both claims. The Court further stated that breastfeeding was, in fact, a medical condition under the PDA, as it obviously related to pregnancy.

The Court also found that the PDA does not require special accommodations, but merely requires reasonable accommodations. The supervisor’s refusal to provide the certain accommodation of letting Officer Hicks have a desk assignment when others were provided this accommodation was clear discrimination against Officer Hicks. The Court held that Officer Hicks “was not asking for a special accommodation, or more than equal treatment—she was asking to be treated the same as ‘other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work’ as required by the PDA.”

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, you may be able to take legal action. Employers do not have the right to discriminate against any employee who needs reasonable accommodations due to their pregnancy-related medical conditions. If you have concerns regarding employment law issues, contact the New York employment law attorney Steven Mitchell Sack to protect your rights. Call Steven Mitchell Sack, “The Employee’s Lawyer,” at (917) 371-8000 or email him at sms@StevenSack.com.

 

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