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Prison guard wins round in discrimination case

New York's Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated a plaintiff's lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination. The decision cited a Supreme Court ruling in 2015.

The Supreme Court case they cited was a ruling on behalf of a plaintiff who worked for United Parcel Service Inc. In that case, the court determined that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act "requires courts to consider the extent to which an employer's policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats non-pregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to work."

The unanimous decision in the New York case was in favor of an Ulster County corrections officer who started working as a prison guard back in 1996. The policy in question stated that all employees who suffered on-the-job injuries should be allowed to move to light duty assignments to not aggravate their injuries. Light duty work was defined as clerical and other types of duties.

The guard became pregnant in 2008, and her pregnancy was considered to be high risk. As such, her obstetrician issued a recommendation that she be assigned to light tasks. However, the sheriff ordered an undersheriff to deny permission.

In August of that year, during her pregnancy, the guard was "bumped" when two inmates got into an altercation in a prison bathroom. Because of this, the corrections officer left her position until after her baby was born.

Plaintiff filed litigation in federal court in Syracuse. Her petition named both Ulster County and the sheriffs. She accused them of pregnancy discrimination. Her claims were covered under Title VII of 1964's Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The federal judge granted a motion by Ulster County in 2014 to dismiss plaintiff's case. Their position was that all workers with "outside line-of-duty disabilities" received the same treatment under the policy addressing circumstances of light-duty work.

The most recent ruling overturned the lower court's decision, which remanded the lawsuit for additional proceedings. Their position was that the county failed to accommodate their pregnant employee's light duty request, yet provided those same accommodations to other workers "unable to perform non-light-duty tasks a result of [on-duty] injuries."

Those in similar circumstances may wish to seek legal advice to determine whether they have a cause of action to pursue a legal claim.

Source: Business Insurance, "Jailer's pregnancy discrimination claim reinstated on appeal," Judy Greenwald, April 26, 2016

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