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New Jersey Courts Examine Pregnancy Discrimination Issues

Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related issues remains a problem in workplaces in New Jersey and around the country despite numerous forward strides in recent years. In 2014, amendments to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) added pregnancy discrimination as a specific unlawful employment practice. This includes failure to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant or who have given birth recently. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on a pregnancy discrimination claim earlier this year, affirming that both disparate treatment based on pregnancy and failure to provide reasonable accommodations are violations of the NJLAD. This could be a timely concern for many New Jersey workers who are returning to the workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down. The news media have reported on numerous difficulties faced by people who are looking for jobs while also dealing with parental responsibilities.

Under federal law, pregnancy discrimination is included in the statutory definition of discrimination “on the basis of sex.” Prior to 2014, pregnancy discrimination under the NJLAD could also be viewed as a form of sex or gender discrimination. Pregnancy is now listed as a distinct protected category along with sex, gender identity or expression, and others. State law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers, such as additional bathroom and water breaks, lifting restrictions, and modified work schedules based on their needs during pregnancy. Employers must offer these accommodations in a way that is at least equally favorable as accommodations offered for reasons other than pregnancy.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of a police officer who alleged pregnancy discrimination by Ocean Township and various officials. Her lawsuit involved two standing operating procedures (SOPs) regarding “light duty” work assignments. One SOP specifically addressed light duty related to pregnancy, while the other applied to injuries not related to pregnancy.

The plaintiff alleged that the SOPs violated the NJLAD by offering more favorable terms to people who requested light duty for reasons other than pregnancy. The court agreed with her. In its ruling, it clarified that the NJLAD, as amended, provides three causes of action for pregnancy discrimination: “​​1) unequal or unfavorable treatment; 2) failure to accommodate; and 3) unlawful penalization.” It instructed claimants and their attorneys to specify which cause of action they are asserting in future lawsuits.

News from recent months has shown that pregnancy discrimination remains a serious problem all over the country, and also that it is just one part of an even bigger problem. An article published in Time earlier this year features numerous people who were unable to return to work, or to remain at their jobs, while having to balance those jobs with parenting responsibilities during quarantine lockdowns. Some of those people eventually filed suit for various claims, including pregnancy discrimination. More recently, NJ.com reported on related issues that are keeping parents, mostly women, from returning to work, such as the cost of child care.

The employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group advocate for the rights of employees, former employees, and job applicants in New Jersey and New York. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you with your case, please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

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