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California Pier 1 employee suit alleges pregnancy discrimination

California's legal protections of the rights of pregnant workers have been a template for other states and cities across the country, according to a representative of the National Women's Law Center. However, that doesn't mean that all employers follow those laws.

According to the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center, employers must provide "reasonable accommodation for an employee for a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition" if requested. One Pier 1 Imports Inc. employee in San Jose says that her employer's "accommodation" of her pregnancy was not at all what she had in mind.

The 31-year-old sales associate says she told her supervisor last November that she was expecting her second child. Although she was only two months pregnant, she says her physician advised her not to climb ladders or lift anything over 15 pounds.

The store reportedly assigned her to "light duty" for eight weeks. When she requested an extension of that restricted duty, she says the store placed her on unpaid medical leave for four months. That meant her leave would be over on May 20, which is still two months before her due date in July. She contends that she had planned to work throughout her pregnancy and then take maternity leave. She has filed a class-action discrimination suit against Pier 1.

As odd as this case may sound, according to the NWLC spokesperson, it's not unique. She says that a number of employers refuse to allow physical restrictions necessitated by pregnancy that they would provide "if the woman had a disability or an on-the-job injury."

The Pier 1 employee's attorney calls it "outrageous" that pregnant women "are being forced out of their jobs when they're perfectly able to keep working" and often need the income. The plaintiff, who says she is being required to use her maternity leave before she needs it, asserts that the situation is "stressful financially and emotionally" for her.

The plaintiff's attorney, who works for the Legal Aid Society, says that California employers usually make the appropriate accommodations once they understand the state law. She says, "We've had quite a bit of success because California law is so clear."

Nonetheless, not all employers understand the law or follow it. When they don't, legal action for pregnancy discrimination may be the only way to ensure that they provide the accommodations required under state law for expectant employees.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Lawsuit: Forced on maternity leave, forced to return before baby is due" Robin Abcarian, Apr. 16, 2014

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